It is important to recognize there is a difference between a “pre-trial conference” pursuant to rule 50.02 and a “case conference” pursuant to rule 50.13. This article considers case conferences pursuant to rule 50.13 in the context of civil litigation matters. The article is also relevant to case management conferences for cases that are subject to civil case management pursuant to rule 77.
A case conference (or case management conference) is typically a meeting with a Judge or an Associate Judge to discuss procedural matters. Judges have inherent jurisdiction to control the procedure in all cases. Interlocutory relief is available to Judges.
Case conferences to resolve disagreements should be relied upon sparingly, only where there is a legitimate and significant disagreement on a matter of procedure or it is a required step. A failure on the part of parties and/or their legal counsel to work out most issues can lead to a waste of scarce Judicial resources. In most instances, a case conference should not be required (unless it is a procedural requirement).
Requesting a Case Conference
A Judge may order a case conference anytime, on their own initiative or at the request of a party (rule 50.13(1)). Practice Directions may call for a case conference.
Case Conference Briefs
It is helpful for all parties to prepare a concise case conference brief outlining the issues for the case conference, brief submissions on the issues and the relief sought. Subject to the complexity of the issues and direction from the Court, the substantive portion of a case conference brief should be between 1 and 5 pages, with an optimal length of 3 pages (double-spaced).
You can purchase a template case conference brief here:
Attendance and Authority to Make Decisions
Most of the time a case conference will include the lawyers and any self-represented party, even though the rule says that parties should attend unless there is an order otherwise (rule 50.13(2)).
The lawyers and self-represented litigants in attendance must have authority to make decisions (rule 50.13(3) and (4)).
The important thing is to come prepared to discuss and make decisions on procedure. Rarely would there be time to consult a client privately during a case conference, that would only be necessary in rare circumstances.
Matters to Be Dealt With and Powers
At a case conference, the presiding Justice or Associate Justice can explore the issues, try to resolve issues and establish a timetable (rule 50.13(5)).
The Court may make procedural orders, convene a pre-trial conference, give directions and if there is a Judge make an order for interlocutory relief or convene a hearing (rule 50.13(6)).
Judges and Associate Judges generally do not like dealing with unimportant squabbles at case conferences, because they have many better and more important Judicial responsibilities to take care of. Therefore, most issues should be worked out and ideally consent timetables presented for Judicial approval.
If a case conference is to happen, everyone should be fully prepared and recognize that a case conference is an opportunity to be reasonable and demonstrate good advocacy in the lead up to later decisions on the merits.
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