Is the report a Woolf in sheep's clothing?

Clients want faster access to justice. So do all right-minded members of the legal profession. To that end, Lord Woolf's final report after his two-year inquiry can only be good news. His aim is to reduce "inequalities, cost, delay and the complexity of civil litigation".

He is also hoping to introduce greater certainty on timescales and costs.

Woolf's solution is to hand over management of the litigation process to the judges. A combination of fast-track procedures and mediation will speed up the current unwieldy procedures, with information technology and the judges providing the platform for the revolution to work on.

Business clients are happy with the reforms. A recent survey by Pinsent Curtis found that two-thirds wanted a prompt result, regardless of the fine details of the dispute. Personal injury lawyers are less happy, warning that their clients may find justice denied in the fast-track, which will ignore cases involving "complexities of liability, causation or a point of law".

However, the overriding concern of all lawyers concerns the logistics of running the litigation process under the new regime.

While Woolf is convinced that the system can be revolutionised without extra resources, others are not so sure. Lawyers and consumer groups fear, with good reason, that the system is about cutting costs at the expense of access to justice. Extra judges to deal with the increased workload is a necessity, as is training and technical backup. The fact that there will be no pilot testing is also an issue that has given rise to major concerns.

Highlighting these problems is not a case of sour grapes and in no way takes away from Lord Woolf's monumental efforts in putting this impressive report together.

But with such major changes afoot, it is necessary to consider the implications very carefully.