This chapter deals with the problems of the pre-trial stages of a civil action which set the stage for the trial – if there is one. There are two main reasons why the pre-trial stage of litigation is vital. One is that in the great majority of cases the proceedings never reach trial. Secondly, in the rare cases that go to trial, the outcome is usually determined by what has been achieved by way of collection and preparation of evidence in the pre-trial stage.
Pre-trial civil process has repeatedly been the subject of reports and inquiries – more than sixty over the past hundred years! (These are issues and problems that seem not to go away.) Since 1968 there has been the report of the Winn Committee, the Report of the Cantley Committee, the massive Civil Justice Review 1985–88 and the Heilbron-Hodge Working Party set up jointly by the Bar and the Law Society. The recommendations of these bodies were dealt with extensively in earlier editions of this work. For reasons of economy of space, they are treated here lightly, since the new system which took effect in April 1999 was based essentially on the recommendations made by Lord Woolf in his June 1995 Interim Report and his July 1996 Final Report both entitled Access to Justice. Virtually every topic dealt with in this chapter is affected by the Woolf Report.