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I read your article in March with some interest (The Lawyer 5 March 'Apil slams unreal Woolf paper').
I have re-qualified in England having previously qualified in Northern Ireland. The system in Northern Ireland is somewhat different from that of England.
First, the population in Northern Ireland is very much more "personal injury claim conscious" and the county court limit for personal injury costs is £15,000. From my experience in the County Court over in Northern Ireland, proceedings were started off by way of "ordinary civil bill" and there were no pleadings and only rarely were there directions hearings.
There was an obligation to "list the case for hearing" within approximately eight weeks after issue and service of the civil bill. When costs were finally agreed they were on a banded scale.
For many routine injuries under £25,000 the system worked speedily and efficiently and concentrated everybody's minds to settle a case promptly.
However, I would be unable to comment on the larger cases settled in Northern Ireland.
From previous experience in Northern Ireland the Belfast Solicitors Association did have a guide to cases settled in the High Court and the system seemed to work relatively well.
From my own experience, the system did tend to fall down in complex equity cases which were conducted in the High Court.