Fast-track negligence pilot takes off

A pioneering fast-track scheme aimed at making medical negligence cases fairer and quicker has been launched in Birmingham.

Two leading Birmingham medical negligence firms are behind the scheme which was inspired by Lord Woolf's civil justice inquiry.

Partner Stuart Knowles and litigation manager Fiona Hawker, from the Lewington partnership, and Richard Follis, a partner at Challinors, devised the project.

They were helped by district judges Peter Marsh and Anthony Cleary and Bernard Shaw, chief clerk at the city's county court.

The pilot scheme will cover cases of £10,000 or less, where the trial is expected to last no more than two days. Both parties will have to opt into the system. The aim is to make parties exchange information at an earlier stage prior to court proceedings so it is clearer which cases will get to trial. Dates for trial will be listed about 12 months in advance before district judges knowledgeable about medical negligence.

The judges will take a more interventionist role in case management hearings in an effort to minimise the number of experts and witnesses called.

Lawyers will be expected to accept fixed fees at various stages of the action to give litigants an idea of costs.

The scheme should come into operation in the Birmingham law courts on 1 October. “If successful we expect this scheme or something similar to be adopted nationwide,” said Knowles.

The results of the pilot scheme will be monitored by legal academics from the Centre of Advanced Litigation at the University of Nottingham.

Leading medical negligence lawyer Sarah Leigh, of Leigh Day & Co, who co-ordinated the medical negligence aspect of the Woolf enquiry, said: “I think it is a brilliant idea. I am sure that Lord Woolf will be very interested in the outcome.”