Doubts over fast-track law

John Malpas reports

THE FAIRNESS of County Court judgments could be put at risk if Lord Woolf's fast-track litigation plans go ahead unamended, claims a London barristers' group.

The London Common Law and Commercial Bar Association has questioned the ability of district judges to cope with the demands of the planned new fast-track system for cases involving claims of up to £10,000.

In its response to Woolf's consultation "issues paper" on the fast-track proposals, the group calls for a more modest scheme, one that would have a better chance of succeeding.

"We have doubts whether the current proposals will satisfy the ideals of fairness and certainty," the group says.

"To expect district judges with the benefit of only limited oral evidence and argument to be able to deliver fair and predictable judgments over the very wide range of cases, which is currently intended should be allocated to the fast track, is asking a lot."

The group argues that the plan to assign all cases to the fast-track process unless they are exceptional in some way is a back-to-front way of tackling the issue.

"Case types which are suitable for allocation to the fast-track should be identified and all others should be excluded at least until the procedure has been demonstrated to work with particular categories of cases."

The London Common Law and Commercial Bar Association is one of several special interest barristers' groups to respond to one or more of the six "issues' papers" unveiled for consultation by Woolf in January. Other groups to have sent in suggestions to the Access to Civil Justice Inquiry are the Commercial Bar Association, the Personal Injury Bar Association and the Professional Negligence Bar Association.