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Jeff Lewis

Partner and Head of Commercial Litigation - Manchester, BRABNERS LLP

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[The book] represents a much more readable and more comprehensible alternative to the weighty (and, to the non-sophisticated litigator, largely incomprehensible) tome that is the White Book.

Litigation Handbook: Practice and Procedure in the Business and Property Courts

Opinion
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Litigation Handbook: Practice and Procedure in the Business and Property Courts

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Jeff Lewis reviews ‘Litigation Handbook: Practice and Procedure in the Business and Property Courts’ by Adam Chaffer

If there’s a problem with Adam Chaffer’s book, it’s its title, which is something of a misnomer; if you take the Litigation Handbook bit of the title alone, there’s no doubt that it does what it says on the tin (and does it extremely well): the book’s a very digestible and easily-read summary of the key elements of civil litigation, and it manages to strike the difficult balance of being comprehensive while not confusing the reader with too much detail.

Indeed, the skill of the book in many ways is its simplicity, and Chaffer deserves credit for the accessible and uncomplicated style of the language in the book. Certainly, it represents a much more readable and more comprehensible alternative to the weighty (and, to the non-sophisticated litigator, largely incomprehensible) tome that is the White Book.

So, so far so good.

But the book’s sub-title (“Practice and Procedure in the Business and Property Courts”) by implication advertises it as a book for those litigating in the specialist Business and Property Courts (BPC); as such, its likely purchasers are those who are either dabbling in the BPC as an exception to their normal practice or those who are just starting out their careers in the BPC.

To those practitioners, the book is likely to be a disappointment: despite the fact the bespoke practices and rules operating within the BPC are sometimes very different from the rules prevailing in ‘standard’, non-BPC work, there is in fact very little in the book that focuses on BPC work (although the section on the disclosure pilot scheme is excellent).

Indeed, there are no more than passing mentions in the book of the Technology and Construction Court and the Circuit Commercial Court, two of the main constituents of the BPC. Somebody attracted by the title of the book is probably going to want to know about the nuances of the BPC Courts, as set out, for example, in the various guides to them. Instead, we get information about the small claims track and the fast track, neither of which is relevant to the BPC.

This leads on to the related criticism I would have of the book, which is that much of the content is far more basic than its title suggests it will be. For example, the section headed “initial client meeting”, followed a page later by another section headed “second client meeting”, rather assumes that the reader is at the very start of their career; however, the likelihood is that anybody practising in the BPC has already worked out that it’s a good idea to “let the client explain the background to the problem”. Similarly, advice such as “Remember it takes time to prepare for a trial. Trial preparation should not be rushed” is probably unnecessary to anybody who is likely to purchase the book.

As an aide-memoire to somebody starting out their career as a litigator, and in particular to a new trainee or paralegal, of course such advice is invaluable, and indeed the same can be said of much of the book’s content. And Chaffer has certainly mastered the art of covering all of the important points while remaining concise; the section on the overriding objective is particularly impressive, as is the chapter on allocation and case management.

It’s unfortunate – though not the fault of the author – that the book is published at a time of considerable and constant change in the procedural rules of the BPC. So, the commentary on the Disclosure Pilot Scheme currently operating in the BPC is partially out of date already and will continue to be so as the scheme evolves. The book does note the very recent changes to the rules applying to witness statements in the BPC, but a lot more about how the new rules operate in practice will become known only in the next couple of years. 

All in all, as a Litigation Handbook it is excellent. But as a guide to Practice and Procedure in the BPC, it could do better.

Jeff Lewis is head of litigation at Brabners in Manchester brabners.com

Litigation Handbook: Practice and Procedure in the Business and Property Courts by Adam Chaffer, published July/August 2021, First Edition, is published by The Law Society and is available to purchase here.