Cracking the whip

If the Lord Chief Justice needed any confirmation that he is on the right course with his High Court changes, it came with the results of a survey of the 400 biggest UK corporates.

The survey, commissioned by City firm Herbert Smith, reveals nearly all respondents said the system had deterred them from pursuing good cases.

In fact, their views are practically a carbon copy of Lord Taylor's. There is severe criticism of the pre-trial process and the time it takes for the real issues to emerge. They want judges to play a more active role in defining issues early on. The discovery process gets it in the neck, in particular regarding the amount of documentation.

The trial itself takes too long, with over reliance on oral evidence. More than 60 per cent would favour a paper trial. Judges need to take firmer control and curb "long winded" counsel, they say.

The Heilbronn-Hodge points have been taken on board. But will putting a whip in the hands of the judges mean they will become the ring-masters and lion tamers needed? It will require a great re-focusing of their work patterns. The question must be asked as to whether they can deliver? This practice direction has to prove itself in practice.