International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Spring 2013 Issue



The Virtues of a Case Management System in Courts

Dr. James G. Apple

By: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor and President, International Judicial Academy

The International Judicial Academy receives each year many judges from outside the United States who participate in its education programs, coming to Washington for seminars and other educational programs on a variety of topics relating to the proper functioning of judges and courts. One of the most common grievances about court systems in their respective countries is congestion in the courts and delays in processing cases through the courts. Judges in these educational programs are from all parts of the world: Central America, South America, the Far East, the Middle East and Africa. Representatives from all of these regions complain about court congestion and delay.

The IJA, as the host for these programs, is confronted with an issue: how should seminar speakers respond to these complaints? There are some responses that can be made and advice given to these judges. One response is the recommendation of the adoption of modern case management techniques. The other method requires imposition of a disciplinary system on the lawyers who present cases in court.

A modern case management system, whether in a common law court, a civil law court, a court that is a mixture of the two major types of courts, or a religious or some other type of specialty court, has one common denominator that is best demonstrated by a court case time line. If a case, any case, is viewed as a series of events that occur periodically from the time of filing of the first papers in the clerk’s office to the time of final judgment, then a case time line can be created. Starting at the left a line is drawn moving to the right. The start at the extreme left of the line is labeled case filed, and the end of the line on the extreme right is labeled final judgment. There are obviously in between the beginning and end points various events that occur, true of any case. For instance, the judge may order, after the initial papers have been filed in the case, a conference with the lawyers to determine the facts of the case and the nature of the claim. There are periods of time allowed for the taking of evidence, for legal arguments to be made, and for determining when the final hearing or trial will take place. And then there is a final hearing or, in the common law system, a trial, after which a judgment is made in the case by the judge or jury.

Modern case management techniques are based on certain fundamental principles. The first is that the judge must take control of the case almost from the beginning of it, soon after all of the initial papers are filed in the case by the litigants. By control is meant that a specific judge is assigned to the case at the time of the filing of the initial papers, and controls the movement of the case through the system, including the speed of that movement, from after the first filing onward, until final judgment. In most cases this is done through the technique of a scheduling conference soon after all of the initial pleadings have been filed. During the scheduling conference the judge determines the nature of the case and the basic facts about the controversy so that he or she can determine the approximate length of time that will be needed to bring a case to conclusion. In a sophisticated case management system the judge would assign the case to a particular “track” which is used to distinguish the different kinds of cases, that is, to classify cases as very simple cases, moderately complicated cases, or very complicated cases. This is called a differential case management system.


The next principle is that a modern case management process requires that each of the series of events or activities that occur in every case following the filing of the initial papers to the time of final judgment be assigned to a specific date or be completed by a specific date. The judge establishes the assigned dates, usually at the aforementioned scheduling conference with the lawyers. This technique means that, as the lawyers in the case reach and complete one event or activity, there is, for the lawyers, always another assigned date for the completion of the next activity.

Having assigned dates for the completion of each activity in the case process has the effect of requiring the lawyers for the parties to focus on the case and contact opposing counsel, either in court before the judge or outside the court. Experience in the United States has demonstrated that the more the lawyers in the case get together to fulfill a required activity the better chance there is for a settlement in the case. The reason for this is that, as the case moves along the case time line, each lawyer becomes not only more familiar with his or her own case, but also the case of opposing counsel, thus revealing more encouragement for or avenues to settlement.

The next principle to be applied in modern case management, perhaps the most important one in resolving congestion and delay, relates to the requirement that the judge assigned the case exercise strict compliance with and require strict adherence to, the schedule that has been established in the case. This means that the judge must be very frugal in granting requests to change dates for completion of case events or activities, and only grant them for serious and compelling reasons. The judge must also be especially reluctant to grant requests of lawyers for continuances of hearings or trials.

With regard to the latter point, in many countries the judges are reluctant to confront lawyers with a denial when asked for a change in the scheduled date for a hearing or trial. Apparently in at least some countries bar associations are very powerful and will thwart efforts by the judiciary to place more power in the hands of the judges for the purpose of efficiency in case processing. However, if the problem of delay in the courts is ever going to be overcome, there must be established in court systems the power of the judiciary to control, meaning strict control, of the management of cases in the courts, and the power to refuse requests from lawyers for rulings that will cause delay.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2013 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
IJM welcomes comments, suggestions, and submissions.
Please contact the IJM editor at