A “short cause” is a legal term of art to describe a trial that is expected to finish up particularly quickly. In the event a trial is deemed a short cause, it will be moved up in the list of cases to be heard, called the docket, to be resolved as soon as possible. By giving such cases priority, the court maximizes its efficiency and ensures that disputes are resolved with expediency. In the event that a case deemed a short cause has issues arise that will result in the proceedings lasting longer than expected, the judge may at his or her discretion declare a mistrial and force the parties to re-file the case as a long cause.
A case will be commonly defined as a short cause if the expected resolution time is four to five hours, but the exact definition varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, typically depending on how much activity the court sees. For example, courts within cities that usually see a heavy amount of activity are more likely to have a stricter short cause standard than a rural area that sees fewer cases. This is due to the fact that the greater the amount of activity seen at a courthouse the greater the need for judicial efficiency.
The factors that lead to a case having a short resolution time, and thus be deemed a short cause, will depend on the type of case as well as its complexity. Usually, the more complex a case is, the greater the length of time will be needed for resolution. In a divorce case, for example, a case may be deemed a short cause if the parties largely agree on the terms of divorce or the parties have not been married long enough for complex issues to arise. However, if issues such as child custody, child support, or complex property division matters are to be part of the proceedings, the case is likely to last a relatively long time.
The policy behind the short cause designation is to promote judicial efficiency in resolving cases on the docket. In many jurisdictions, the dockets are backed up to the point that litigants are not able to have their cases heard in a reasonable amount of time. By creating a short cause designation, a litigant who has a simpler issue to resolve can have his or her case heard without such a waiting period.