Judge pre-empts Taylor and cuts 'waffle' in record trial

A HIGH Court Judge took the first tentative steps to “cut the waffle” in the justice system, when he laid down time limits for the cross-examination of witnesses.

Mr Justice Sedley, who pre-empted the recent practice direction of Lord Chief Justice Lord Taylor, set down rules to speed up proceedings in a protracted personal injury trial.

The case ended last week when a record u1.1 million, plus interest and costs, was awarded to a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The extraordinarily long quantum trial, which lasted 70 days, had been scheduled for six weeks and had substantially overrun when the judge intervened last May.

Solicitor Richard Bretton, of Bristol firm Osborne Clarke, acting for plaintiff Peter Vernon, says the ruling is a taste of things to come.

“It worked well. Boxing matches are usually over 12 rounds. In the Olympics they are reduced to three and the best punches have to be delivered in a shorter period. As long as there is parity between both parties it remains fair,” he says.

But James Goudie QC, of 11 King's Bench Walk, strikes a note of caution. “There is scope for time limits with legal submissions, but you need to be more careful with cross-examination,” he says.

The danger is that dishonest witnesses will be “saved by the bell” in the same way television interviewees can wriggle off the hook by waffling away the limited time available, he says.

Bretton, head of the firm's health and safety unit, was acting for a man whose life was shattered after seeing his two daughters drown.

Insurers General Accident admitted liability but challenged Vernon's u7 million claim for damages. The company, represented by Cardiff-based Grossman Hermer & Seligman, is considering an appeal against the pay-out.

Mr Justice Sedley, explaining the remarkable length of the trial, said the insurers had disputed “every element and every detail of every element” of the damages claim.