Time-limited trial attracts Woolf's attention

LORD Woolf has told devisers of a strictly time-tabled trial, in which barristers were subject to a “guillotine”, that it is likely to be cited in his forthcoming proposals to speed up justice.

The unusual trial at the Official Referee's Divisions of the High Court began in November last year when Judge Bowsher QC had only a five-week gap in his case list to hear a complex action to determine liability in the faulty construction of two office blocks. More than £1 million was being claimed by the developer, Wilson Bowden, against the builder.

In a meeting with the judge, counsel for both sides agreed to adhere to a rigid timetable of five weeks. The identity of each witness to be called on each day of the trial was agreed as was the amount of time each witness would spend on the stand. Transcripts would be used by all parties.

Paul Turton, litigation consultant with Ashton Bond Gigg, who was acting for Wilson Bowden, said: “Both sides were quite wary of this procedure at first. But by the end, the judge and counsel found it had helped concentrate minds.”

His client, Nick Townsend a director of Wilson Bowden, also approved.

So, it seems, did Lord Woolf, who wrote to Turton, saying he found the article “most helpful” and that he would probably quote from it in his access to justice proposals due to be published on 26 July.

Judge Bowsher said both parties benefited from the use of the “guillotine”, but he warned that shortening the timescale increased the burden on lawyers and judges. “Suggestions that court sitting hours should be extended become even more unrelated to reality,” he said.