Preliminary conference (PC)
What is a PC?
A PC is an informal meeting, supervised by the court, which brings the parties together to discuss the case and try to settle it at an early stage.
What cases go to a PC?
The court offers PCs for appeals against land valuations of $5 million or less and in mining compensation and land access cases.
A party may request a PC in any case. However, if it is a complex dispute or will require evidence from experts in more than one discipline or area of expertise, the court may use other procedures such as mediation and court managed expert evidence (CMEE).
What happens at a PC?
The PC is usually convened by the judicial registrar, but may be convened by a member of the court. The parties, and their advisers, attend in person. The convenor will assist the parties to identify and discuss the issues in dispute and to explore options to settle the case, without the need for a court hearing.
The PC is ‘without prejudice’. This means that, if the case does not settle, a party cannot rely on anything said at the PC as evidence at the hearing. The PC is also private and confidential. If the parties reach a settlement they may also decide to keep the details of the settlement confidential.
Nobody gives evidence at the PC, but a party can bring documents, maps and photos if this will help them to explain their view of the case. If given a few days’ notice, the court can provide access, during the PC, to public databases of relevant information, such as Queensland Globe.
Generally, the PC is scheduled for one hour. No party is required to settle their case. Any party may ask for time after the PC to consider a settlement offer. If it seems the parties may reach agreement if given more time, the convenor can extend the PC or adjourn it to an agreed date for further discussions.
If the parties reach agreement at the PC, the convenor will assist them to record and sign the agreement before the PC ends, if possible.
What happens if the parties do not settle?
If the parties do not reach agreement at the PC, the court will list the case for review by the president or another member of the court. At the review, the court will make directions to prepare the case for hearing.
The PC is not the only opportunity for parties to reach an agreement. Settlement negotiations can occur between the parties at any time and need not involve the court. The court encourages the parties to actively explore settlement options at every stage of a case, even after the hearing starts.