Lord Woolf's 'fast track' civil court reforms will not be fully piloted after all, Sir Richard Scott, head of civil justice, has revealed.
In November Lord Woolf and Sir Richard Scott indicated that, following strong lobbying from solicitors' groups and the Law Society, they were prepared to conduct pilots of the fast track before its full implementation on 1 October 1998.
But last week, at a seminar hosted by Dibb Lupton Alsop, Scott told The Lawyer: "We are now of the view that you can't do complete piloting of the fast track. You can't make people go down the fast track road until you have got the rules in place."
He said particular parts of the reforms such as fixed costs and some of the case management would be piloted on a case-by-case basis in some courts, when the consent of both parties had been obtained.
The U-turn is bound to infuriate practitioners and consumer groups who have long maintained that without proper pilots of the fast track, it could overload the civil litigation system.
An Association of Personal Injury Lawyers' (Apil) spokeswoman said: "It's a cop out. This is just what we warned against, it's piecemeal introduction of Woolf's reforms."
Scott also revealed that the Lord Chancellors' Department is undertaking a study which should report by April on how case management software can be included in Caseman, the program designed to replace the old card index system in county courts. He said getting judges' software in place before the October 1988 deadline was essential for the reforms.