While the traditional approach under the Court Rules was that trials of preliminary issues might be directed in limited circumstances – specifically where the matters to be determined involved questions of law that could be addressed before any evidence is given or questions of fact are tried1– the adoption of the Commercial Court rules have represented the genesis of the 'modular trial'.2 This is where a particular module of the proceedings might be tried in and of itself, in isolation from the balance of the proceedings. The case law has defined the circumstances where this is permissible and the recent decision of Weavering Macro Fixed Income Fund Limited (In Liquidation) v PNC Global Investment Services (Europe) Limited 3 has set out a useful restatement of the circumstances where it is appropriate to make such directions. In Weavering Justice Charleton noted that the defendant sought a modular hearing in advance of the main trial of certain key issues on the basis that the advance disposal of aspects of the claim would shorten the trial and reduce expense. The court noted that no estimate had been given as to how ordering a modular hearing might save in time at trial, in pre-trial discovery and in expense, but observed that there was no precedent requiring evidence to that effect and it was not minded to set one. Rather, it felt that to direct a modular hearing on particular issues before the main hearing requires the judge to apply good sense and experienced assessment. Here, the defendant sought a modular hearing on 12 individual issues, which the court then proceeded to consider in their specific context. In observing that the focus should be on the core decisions that a court must make, he tentatively set out six core items as being central to the trial and noted that they may require a considerable volume of evidence.
Before looking at the tests applicable as to whether a modular trial should be ordered, the court set out the rationale of the courts in making such directions in the first place and the modern development of modular trials, noting that:
"The time and expense of litigation are undoubtedly burdens on the constitutional right of the people of Ireland of access to the courts for the settlement of disputes... Courts have limited resources in personnel and in sitting days. Litigants draw on these resources, as is their right."
However, it observed that litigation has become increasingly complex...