Judges get tough on unprepared lawyers

Senior members of the judiciary are warning they will not be lenient with lawyers who are unprepared for the Woolf reforms.

This contradicts statements made by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, that if lawyers do not “get it absolutely right straight off the courts are not going to descend upon them”.

At the same time the legal profession is voicing fears that the reforms are still riddled with “fundamental problems”.

The Senior Master of the Queen's Bench Division told a concerned Personal Injury Bar Association (PIBA) annual conference to ensure its members are ready.

Nigel Cooksley, a tenant at Old Square Chambers who sits on PIBA's executive committee, says: “Master Turner made it perfectly clear there would be no lead-in period where leniency would be shown.”

But Cooksley says there has been no guidance on a number of outstanding issues. He asks what costs are allowed for Part 36 offers and says no one has any idea how the new statements of case need to be drafted.

Significantly, PIBA also has a “fundamental problem on the new rules relating to interlocutory costs orders”, says Cooksley.

The new rules stipulate that the judge will make a summary assessment of costs at the end of an interlocutory hearing. The losing party will then have to pay these within 14 days. If the plaintiff is funded under a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) and the order is made against that party there will be no one to pay these costs and it will also reveal to the defendant how the plaintiff is funding his case.

“We see this as a gross breach of client confidentiality to reveal that [the cases are] funded on a CFA,” says Cooksley.