Sir Richard Scott, the Vice-Chancellor, wants compensation to be paid to lawyers if judges are not available to hear civil cases on prescribed days under the Woolf system.
Once the reforms have been instigated in April, courts are to have greater control of timetables and will set court dates earlier in an attempt to speed up the trial process. But civil lawyers are worried that log-jams may occur, leaving them without a judge to hear their case on the agreed day.
Sir Richard told a conference of personal injury lawyers that the onus is on the Court Service to guarantee that a judge will be available and if one isn't, it is reasonable for the lawyers involved to expect to be paid compensation by the courts.
The Lord Chancellor's Department stresses that Sir Richard's views were his own, and not government policy.
“We are not in a position at this stage to say whether or not compensation is something that will happen. But we are taking it seriously.”
The president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Ian Walker, welcomes the suggestion, but thinks that the Government would not be keen to implement the idea.
He says civil lawyers are concerned that the deadline pressure on the courts will sometimes lead to instances where they turn up with a client, expert witness and barrister only to be told they will have to come back another day: “That flushes down the toilet preparation costs of about £3,000 to £4,000,” he says.