Woolf's reforms fail to tackle funding and efficiency issues, says survey

LORD Woolf's draft proposals for reform of the civil justice system are “superficially attractive” but do not go far enough to cure the underlying problems of under-funding and inefficiency, say clients surveyed by City firm Simmons & Simmons.

Based on the views of its corporate clients, the firm is calling on Lord Woolf to professionalise his proposed procedural judges by creating a new class of highly-trained court officials capable of expediting cases.

Lord Woolf has already proposed that retired lawyers could sit as procedural judges to control litigation.

This is supported by 75 per cent of the corporate clients surveyed by Simmons & Simmons.

But a large number of those clients believe that using retired solicitors and Masters was not a good idea because they were effectively “part of the old regime,” says Paul Mitchard, head of litigation at the firm.

“What are needed are highly trained 'career' procedural judges. The problem with that, of course, is that it inevitably involves spending money,” says Mitchard.

In a submission to Lord Woolf, the firm also suggests: streaming cases, so that the most appropriate procedures apply; promoting mediation; greater use of technology by the courts for case management; and increasing government investment in the courts.

Among the 40 corporate clients surveyed, 74 per cent were less than satisfied by the current system. Eighty six per cent thought Woolf was on the “right lines,” says Mitchard.