Lawyers must fight to ensure that justice for personal injury (PI) victims is not “McDonaldised” in the wake of sea-changes predicted for legal services.
Michael Napier, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, told delegates at the London conference: “PI is not a fast-food item. It's not so simple. The issues are not always that easy.”
Napier said he had borrowed the analogy from an American lawyer who claimed the court system had become so obsessed with speed that the only thing on offer to clients was a “McTrial”.
But guest speaker Lord Woolf, unveiling his vision for the future, said the courts should be able to insist that a u10,000 case was wrapped up in half a day.
“It will involve a culture shock, but we have to think about it in the context that a large number of the population can't afford to litigate at all,” said Woolf.
“I don't think anyone here has any reason to be concerned about the possibility. It is something that we should look forward to rather than worry about.”
Woolf, who is currently reviewing the civil court system, refuted the claim that speedy litigation would lead to injustice, provided the case was properly presented, the judges had read the papers and the issues had been clearly defined.
But PI lawyers hoping for separate treatment were disappointed by Woolf's stance on the idea of specialist courts and judges.
Judges who dealt with one type of case only would tend to become plaintiff lawyers or defendant lawyers. A more varied experience helped judges to be more objective, he said.
“It's not a case of being bored. It's a question of getting into a groove.”
He also warned of the dangers of breaking the court system into separate sections because problems emerged as to whether a case was appropriate for the particular jurisdiction.
Half the judicial review cases began with an argument about whether the action met the correct criteria, Woolf said.
Napier stressed that personal injury work was “good value for money” with the vast majority of plaintiffs receiving damages.
“Any reduction in legal aid is a false economy,” he said.
On the subject of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, Napier said the Government's tariff system was as ill thought-out as the unpopular Child Support Agency.