New time restriction sparks complaints

Commercial litigators say a pre-action protocol on handling debt claims may lead to court-room mayhem if it becomes law because of the time restriction it imposes.

Under the protocol, judges will have the power to award adverse costs against defendants if they do not respond to claims with a full case outline within a week. Parties are also given only seven days to decide on a mutually acceptable expert.

But debt claims lawyers are complaining that in other areas litigators are given a much longer time to prepare their cases.

Michael Polonsky, litigation partner at Paisner & Co, says: “It would be unworkable and it is contrary to the Woolf philosophy, which wants to free up the court process.

“In a clinical negligence case you allow three months for a defendant to respond. If you are making a claim which is a personal injury claim, you are recommended that the letter of claim, facts, and such like, should be sent and the defendant should reply in 21 days.

“These rules do not apply to the pre-action debt claim protocol.”

A leading legal management consultant, says: “It is impossible to do this in such a short period of time.

“There should be a bench mark of three months or something.”