New “fast track stream” Court procedures in all SA Courts

Commencing 1 October 2014, there will be a new optional “Fast Track Stream” in all South Australian Courts available for “straight forward” cases not exceeding a quantum of $250,000 (combined quantum of claim and counterclaim) and not expected to take more than 3 days at trial.

An election can be made by either party at an early stage of proceedings to transfer the matter into the fast track stream.  Cases can be transferred into and out of the fast track stream on application.

The full Rules for the Fast Track Stream can be found here.

 What does it mean to be in the fast track stream?

Many of the features of a trial in the fast track stream remain the same as the conventional system.  However, the new Rules implement key features designed to expedite the matter to receive a timely outcome.  Some of the new changes are as follows:

  • If a party fails to comply with the timetable ordered by the Court, the Court may order resulting lump sum costs (to be paid immediately);
  • Interlocutory applications are to be conducted informally and in the nature of an inquiry;
  • No order for costs will be made on interlocutory applications, unless a party has acted unreasonably, in which case lump sum costs may be ordered to be paid immediately;
  • Communications with an expert (in accordance with Rule 160) are to be served simultaneously with any report as a matter of course;
  • Offers of settlement may be filed at any time. They can be either an offer to enter judgment (“judgment offer”) or an offer that is a legally binding contract (“contract offer”). Overall, the terms of what can be expressed in the offer are considerably more lenient than in the conventional system.
  • For a party to be awarded costs at the conclusion of a matter, it must receive a judgment which is greater than 10% of any offer filed. There is also a discretion whereby if a plaintiff does not accept a contract offer (see above definition), then the Court can consider the reasonableness or otherwise in all the circumstances;
  • There will be designated “Fast Track Months” each year in which fast track stream cases are listed;
  • Parties have a duty to ensure trials proceed as fast as possible;
  • Trial Judges and Magistrates are encouraged take all measures to conduct the trial as efficiently as possible, including conducting the trial in a more informal manner, such as an inquiry;
  • Importantly, costs of actions in the fast track stream are determined by a sliding scale according to stages of the action. These costs are capped and the scale is to apply even if an offer of settlement is “beaten”, which suggests that a successful party may not be entitled to costs on a higher basis (i.e. solicitor/client or indemnity costs) in those circumstances. However, this is still “subject to the residual discretion of the Court”. There is some uncertainty as to the approach that will be taken by the Court in awarding costs.
  • Parties cannot recover the costs of more than one expert, capped at $3,000, unless otherwise ordered.

Conclusion

Due to the costs implications, the fast track stream is not ideal for those cases requiring thorough investigations, as sizable legal costs will not be recovered. However, for “straight forward” cases requiring a speedy solution, the fast track stream offers a new avenue to facilitate these matters.

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