Running a case involves teamwork, between clients, solicitors, counsel (barristers), other interested people, and experts. It helps enormously if all cooperate efficiently with each other.
In environmental cases the client (ie. the litigant named as the claimant in the court papers) is often one of a number of people interested in the issue, as part of a more or less formalised group, which may also be providing financial support. The client/group may also have access to technical experts or others prepared to give evidence in the case.
The client's channel of communication is thus not only with the solicitors (ie. us), but also quite probably with a number of other people. Clients will usually not deal directly with counsel, though sometimes, for example when there is a shortage of time, may deliver documents to them, and on rare occasions may speak directly to clarify points.
Many judicial review cases are decided on relatively straightforward sets of documents and there is often little need for much client involvement. Clients sometimes seem surprised at how little there is to do. But in many other cases one does need close client liaison, particularly so that actions and decisions, which may involve costs or costs exposure, may be taken in a timely and cost-efficient way.
Clients can help achieve this and save themselves money by considering the following tips.
In judicial review cases the client will usually be one individual, sometimes more, but hardly ever all members of the wider support group. We like to deal with one individual who can speak for the group. Almost always that person will be (one of) the named litigant(s). To what extent he or she can in fact take decisions independently of the group is an internal matter for the group, in practice depending on who is named in the court proceedings and who is taking financial responsibility. That is a different issue that will vary from case to case. Although obviously we will take care in whom we accept instructions from, in practice we find these issues easily resolvable. The important point for present purposes is that it is inefficient if we are expected to deal with more than one person.
That means not being expected to copy correspondence and documents to more than that person. E-mails are easily copyable but in principle we like to be responsible only to one person. These are not hard and fast rules. Of course we will try and oblige people, but we have to warn that the more people involved, the more time consuming and therefore expensive the work becomes, and the more scope there can be for confusion.
The coordinator must therefore be set up efficiently. He or she should be capable of being contacted easily. In particular it is worth having e-mail. If you haven't got it - do so! The cost is trivial compared with the cost of litigation, and in particular of losing a case. Again, bearing in mind litigation costs, if you haven't got one, go out and get a computer even just for this purpose. It is likely to make instant financial sense. By the same token not everything has to be instant. The post is a good way of transmitting documents around. In particular we do not like emails with multiple documents attached. They are very time-consuming and therefore expensive to download and sort out.
On one hand we need all relevant documents, on the other hand an irrelevant deluge helps no one. The best bet is to provide all documents that may be relevant, but to make sure they are organised efficiently. For organisation we recommend:
- Putting documents in a lever arch file in chronological order. That means (yes - lots of people do just the opposite!) putting the most recent documents at the back. The file should read like a book.
- Don't divide the material up into "issues" (for example, with separate chunks of correspondence to and from particular persons or organisations). It is better if everything is chronological.
- Index (ie. list the contents) but do not paginate the file. (We will really appreciate it if you send the index to us on email as well, for ease of preparation of a court bundle, which will require indexing).
- Copy on one side of the paper only. Double sided copying causes chaos.
- Weed out duplicates.
- Send clean documents, not ones with annotations (though don't delay for the sake of this).
- Dividing documents with tabs is not particularly helpful.
- Separating out emails to avoid endless strings of duplicates.
As above, unless the matter is exceptionally urgent it is best to send in hard copy and not by fax or email, unless either the documents can be combined in one attachment or to one weblink.
Many cases that we do relate to decisions made about planning. Copies of planning documents are usually available from the planning authority's website. You have a right to look at the planning register and local authorities will usually give free access to their files. Copying documents can be expensive, but the costs are small in relation to winning or losing a High Court case. Be sure to look for and include copies of:
- The officer's report to committee. Sometimes there will be a series of these, in which case send all of them.
- Minutes of the committee meeting(s) dealing with the application.
- The planning application itself and supporting documents.
- Anything on the file relating to environmental impact assessment, including "screening opinions".
- Letters of support and objection.
Reports and minutes are often long documents dealing with lots of different matters. It is helpful just to provide the introductory page(s) (showing the date, nature of the meeting, etc.) and the section relevant to the problem.
Much as we encourage use of computers, please be selective about deluging us with print-outs from the internet, or links to internet sites which we are then expected to check through. See above as to hard copy.
It is often useful to have a brief written resume of the history of a matter, what the perceived problem is and what the client is trying to achieve, etc. However it can be a waste of time doing this at length and normally we do not need a lengthy history of the dispute if there is one. Two sides of A4 is normally sufficient. The issues should be clear from the documents provided, and time and effort is better spent collating these properly.
We always like to meet clients if practicable, and in many cases site visits are invaluable. However it is not necessarily efficient to meet more than once, or to meet frequently with counsel. Meetings involve travel, and meetings themselves always take more time than dealing with a point by telephone or email. Sometimes face to face discussion is worthwhile but not always. To keep costs down, it is worth thinking twice before arranging meetings.
Details of funding points are elsewhere on this site. In general it helps to realise that it is worth making an effort thoroughly to understand a case at the outset, and that this is worth budgeting for. It is usually very inefficient discussing how much it will cost to do particular but relatively small actions (like write a letter to the other side). It is also important to realise that, nice as it may be, you do not have to have all your funding in place at once, for example before issuing proceedings. Indeed, it can be extremely dangerous to wait on this, because you may run out of time to take action. Litigation is a staged procedure: the costs and costs exposure should not be under-emphasised, but costs tend to run in stages and it is usually possible to back out if necessary, provided you have covered yourself to that point.
It is more efficient if a group has a specific bank account into which contributions are paid, and from which invoices are met or payments on account made, rather than contributions from separate individuals in each instance. If monies are paid to us on account, they are held on our client account pending invoicing.
This is not something about which we profess expertise. However we observe that it is usually more practicable to expect litigation to be supported by a few individuals or organisations contributing relatively larger sums than vice versa. We have seen situations where a few individuals have underwritten a case and a large number of others have been so impressed that with their lesser contributions the underwriters have in fact been covered.
People may or may not support environmental litigation for all sorts of reasons, but in particular, where an issue affects their house value or amenity, as is often the case, if people think in relation to the cash values at risk, it should be perfectly possible to fund cases adequately. We recognise that some people have genuine difficulty in funding cases and we are always prepared to be helpful and constructive about this. By the same token it is pointless trying to run a case if people who clearly can afford it are constantly pleading poverty. We expect people to be realistic.
The system recognises that some people are simply unable to afford litigation, and therefore offers legal aid. This may or may not be subject to contribution from others, depending on circumstances and according to the Legal Aid Agency's funding code. There are great advantages to be had if legal aid, even if only partial (ie. subject to contribution from others), is available. Groups should always bear this in mind and consider whether one or more of their number may qualify for legal aid.