Litigation lawyers have cautiously welcomed the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine's announcement that appeals in civil cases could be heard by one or two senior judges rather than a full panel of three.
Speaking at the Lord Mayor's annual dinner for judges at Mansion House last Wednesday, Lord Irvine said that the change was part of his drive to modernise the civil justice system.
The proposal to reduce the number of judges who hear an appeal was one of the measures contained in two consultation papers published last Friday. Lord Irvine also proposes to extend the requirement for leave to appeal to nearly all cases coming to the Court of Appeal.
Other steps include having some appeals, particularly lower value fast-track cases, heard by a lower court rather than the Court of Appeal, and setting time limits on oral arguments during an appeal.
Lord Irvine said the reforms would mean that “only cases of sufficient importance, value and complexity would find their way to the Court of Appeal”. He predicted “significant savings for individuals and the taxpayer”.
Describing the reforms as “a very good thing”, Anthony Bourne, a partner at Mayfair firm Glovers, who has just won a £350m case at the Court of Appeal, said that reducing the number of judges for the less complex cases would be a better use of judicial time. “If you have got a bright judge, and usually by the time they get to the Court of Appeal they have this with a vengeance, the other two can be doing something else,” he added.
Addleshaw Booth & Co head of litigation John Gosling gave the reform plans a cautious approval but warned: “There is a risk that a single judge might reach a different verdict than three together.”
And he also asked what would happen if two judges heard a case but came to a different conclusion.
Suzanne Burn, secretary of the Law Society's civil litigation committee, said: “If we have any concerns they relate to the plans to limit some appeals from the county court so that they may no longer reach the Court of Appeal.”