Apil slams 'unreal' Woolf paper

A LORD Woolf issues paper on fixed costs has been condemned by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers as “plumbing the depths of unreality”.

Apil president Michael Napier has launched a scathing attack on the paper by Oxford academic Dr Adrian Zuckerman and put out by Lord Woolf for consultation in January.

The paper blames the current cost of litigation on hourly rates and retrospective taxation and proposes the fixing of costs at the start of litigation.

“The whole tenor of Access to Justice is that we can no longer afford unlimited procedural provision for every case, regardless of importance, complexity or value,” it says.

Writing in the latest edition of the Apil newsletter, Napier attacks Zuckerman's “conveyor-belt litigation ideas”, which he says will produce “a system that will turn out to be so strait-jacketed that the delivery of justice will come a poor second to the priority of costs”.

He raises the spectre of plaintiffs settling early because of the danger that their lawyers will run out of money. And he cites the case of Kings Cross disaster victim Ron Lipsius, “whose solicitor and Apil member Patrick Allen fought for eight years to boost an original offer of £260,000 to a £650,000 court door settlement”.

But Zuckerman has hit back at the claims. “If you pay a plumber by the hour he is going to stay in your house all day. The present system encourages lawyers to protract and complicate litigation,” he said.

He cited the proposed legal aid reforms as evidence that a general fixed-costs system was “inevitable”, and insisted that research in Germany showed fixed costs meant more cases and thus equal, if not greater, reward for lawyers.

Zuckerman's paper was produced at the instigation of the Lord Woolf inquiry team and responses are invited by 11 March.

In her introduction to the paper, inquiry team member Clare Funnell said there had been suggestions that proposed procedural reforms for both fast and multi-track civil litigation systems “may not be sufficient in itself to achieve control over costs”.

Apil is also concerned about Woolf's procedure plans, but committee member Frances McCarthy, of London firm Pattinson and Brewer, described talks with the inquiry team on the issue as “encouraging”.