In my last blog, which introduced the coming changes to discovery practice under the new Supreme Court Civil Rules, my focus was document production. In Karen Redmond’s recent blog, she discussed the possible negative consequences of new restrictions to be placed on the use of written interrogatories.
The other key tool in the discovery process is the oral examination, which is my focus today.
According to the Civil Justice Reform Working Group (CJRWG), feedback from litigants and other members of the public brought to light that our civil justice system was perceived as “too expensive, too complex and too slow.” The CJRWG concluded that excessive oral examinations contribute to these problems, primarily because there are no time limits imposed on the examiner. Theoretically, a person could be subjected to several days of questioning, with much of that ‘evidence’ never to see the light of day at trial. Not surprisingly then, a lengthy oral examination process can add dramatically to the cost of litigation without necessarily advancing resolution of the dispute. To curb this, under new Rule 7-2 the total duration that a person can be examined is limited to seven hours, unless that person consents. But in the case of someone who is unresponsive, evasive, or gives lengthy, irrelevant answers ( which in my experience happens more often than you might expect), the examiner may have no option but to obtain a court order to extend the time in which to question that person. That in itself would compound costs and delay the process.
A good move in my view, again with the objective of limiting the duration of the oral examination, Rules 7-2 (23) and (24) formalize a common practice that exists now. Quite often the person examined may not know off hand the answers to some of the questions that arise in the examination, such as names and addresses, or have documents in hand that have relevance to the case, but can certainly gather that information or documentation given the time to do so. Instead of adjourning and rescheduling the examination for continuation at a later date, the examiner can request, by letter, that certain questions be answered, in turn, by letter. Those questions and their responses are deemed to be as if given under oath in the examination itself.