Modular trials can be a feature of litigation in Ireland before the Commercial List of the High Court. Numerous authorities have set down the rationale for imposing modular trials and have determined the test to be applied when considering whether a particular case is appropriate for or susceptible to modular trials. However, the Supreme Court recently issued its views on the holding of modular trials in the context of an appeal from a Commercial Court decision of Judge Charleton in Weavering Macro Fixed Income Fund Ltd v PNC Global Inv Servicing (Europe) Ltd.1
During its ruling, in which it directed that a modular trial take place in respect of eight issues, the Commercial Court identified trends in litigation practices which have resulted in litigation becoming increasingly unwieldy and expensive. In acknowledging the Commercial List rules which permit improved case management, and on reviewing prior authorities, the court identified modular trials as "one of the essential instruments at a court's disposal for the proper structuring of a complex trial". It also suggested that in considering whether to direct a modular trial, the court must balance between:
"[a] diffuse and lengthy trial hearing on multiple issues or choosing instead a preliminary and much shorter hearing on particular central questions which may be determinative of the ultimate issues of trial or which, at the least, will introduce focus and concision to the trial process."
Here, the Supreme Court was asked to consider the legal principles applicable to the directing of a modular trial.
Supreme Court role
The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to interfere in case management orders made by the High Court had previously been considered in a slightly different context in Dowling v Minister for Finance,2 where timetables imposed by President Kearns of the High Court were complained by the appellant as being unfairly prejudicial. In that case, the Supreme Court observed that:
"this Court should only intervene if there is demonstrated a degree of irremediable prejudice created by the relevant case management directions such as could not reasonably be expected be remedied by the trial judge (or at least where the chances of that happening were small) and where therefore, unusually, the safer course of action would be for this Court to intervene immediately to alter the case management directions."3
It further noted its decision in PJ Carroll & Co v...