Political Will

LAWYERS across the country have questioned the “political will” to support planned reforms for the civil justice system with many wondering whether the Government will provide the funds to back Lord Woolf's plans for a radical shakeup.

But Woolf says that the proposals unveiled in his far-reaching report 'Access to justice', are not “politically-sensitive” and can be implemented at a “modest” cost.

He says he has assessed both the credit and debit aspects of the proposals, and much of the required funding can be drawn from current resources, with cuts in some areas generating additional funds for others.

However, Davies Arnold Cooper senior partner David McIntosh says if the Government is as “parsimonious” about investing in the law as it has been in the past, “then these ideas will never work as intended”.

“Supervising litigation is going to be very demanding and time consuming. Particularly on the part of judges who have never previously had to supervise very much and whose own training has been very much as spokespeople, not organisers,” he says.

Woolf says the Lord Chancellor has already responded positively to the interim document, and it is likely it will win cross-party support.

The report includes plans to introduce IT to the courtroom, provide additional training for judges and establish permanent advice centres. It also calls for a three-track system for case management and trial.

The Law Lord says he has not put a price on the package, but “more efficient” use of current resources will go a long way towards meeting the cost of implementation.

“We gave great thought to whether we could cost it out as such,” says Woolf. “I do believe we can do most of it at a modest cost.

“Resources are, of course, always an issue and to some extent my proposals are dependent on resources. But I do not believe that there is any great need for additional resources.”

However, lawyers say

although Woolf's changes look good on paper, the cost implications for Westminster are vast. “The complaint that litigators make time and again about the current system is that it is underfunded,” says Eversheds litigation practice group chair Antony Gold.

“Here we have, on the back of existing failings within the system, something which is imposing a quantum leap in terms of the burden on the courts system. If these proposals are implemented without the cash to make them work, it's doubtful whether they're going to have the intended effect.”

Nicole Maley