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THE president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil), Caroline Harmer, warned of the need for proper consultation and piloting of the Woolf reforms in her speech at the organisation's spring conference last week.
More than 300 personal injury lawyers attended the event in London's Olympia Conference Centre, at which Harmer said the length of time taken to sort out Order 17 - the automatic strike-out rule for county court claims - bodes ill for the future of the Woolf reforms.
She said the order, introduced by the Lord Chancellor's Department without consultation seven years ago had given rise to an immense amount of litigation and was only clarified by the Court of Appeal case, Bannister v SGB, last month. Even now some problems remained, she said.
"It must not happen again and my fear is that it might," added Harmer. "We are facing major changes in the way we litigate but there is not going to be any proper piloting; we are told that although resources will be made available, the changes will not lead to increased costs - we disagree."
Harmer also urged the use of joint training on the new rules between judges and lawyers, which has so far been rejected by the judiciary.
Apil committee member and partner at Thompsons, Doug Christie, called for the reinstatement of confidentiality for employees' witness statements in personal injury cases.
He said employees had been increasingly fearful of giving evidence against employers since their right to confidentiality had been removed by county court and High Court rules in 1992.
Nigel Tomkins, also of Thompsons, said that with the new government in place the time was now ripe to relaunch Apil's campaign to reform the law preventing ex-servicemen and women from claiming compensation for asbestos-related illnesses.