APIL tackles Woolf proposals

LORD Woolf will this week discuss his proposed shake-up of the civil justice system with officials from the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).

Plans for a four-tier system, with cases streamed according to complexity and importance, are likely to form a key part of Woolf's report to the Lord Chancellor.

The review team also favours case management training for judges and a system of payment into court for plaintiffs in order to encourage settlement, it has emerged.

Nigel Tomkins, co-ordinator of APIL's special interest group on procedure, says he will urge Lord Woolf to give full backing to the idea of “plaintiffs' offers”.

“It is something we have been in favour of for some time. It will put defendants in a position where they will be punished if they don't behave properly. It will even up the tables,” he says.

But Tomkins, solicitor at Robin Thompson & Partners, is concerned about another of Woolf's proposals – raising the small claims limit from u1,000 to u3,000.

APIL officials fear that the move could “disenfranchise a swathe of personal injury plaintiffs at a stroke”. Rules preventing litigants from claiming costs in the small claims court will mean that plaintiffs will go unrepresented, says Tomkins.

Woolf is expected to deliver his first report, outlining the broad principles of his reforms, to the Lord Chancellor's Department in late spring. A further report will follow, laying down detailed proposals for procedural changes.

He is expected to recommend a unified system and the possible scrapping of the distinction between the High Court and the County Courts.

The most complex cases would end up before a High Court judge who would take on a managerial role. The system will also allow for fast-track cases up to a fixed amount where expert witnesses would be appointed by the court.

A further tier would deal with run-of-the-mill County Court claims.