Law Soc queries cost of changes to civil justice

The promise of full funding to implement radical changes to the civil justice system will mean a drain on resources in other areas, according to the Law Society. Responding to the Lord Chancellor's outline strategy for introducing changes within two years, a spokeman for the Law Society said that, although it welcomed the Lord Chancellor's commitment to Woolf's proposals, the changes would mean 'robbing Peter to pay Paul'.

The Lord Chancellor's strategy paper, The Way Forward, proposes to introduce the key areas of Woolf's report, including a fast-track system to deal with cases up to £10,000, a multi-track system for more complex cases and fixed costs for lawyers in proportion to the value of the claim.

But the Law Society is concerned that no additional resources will be made available for these changes, nor the cost of appointing and training more judges and installing new information technology systems.

It has, however, welcomed the Lord Chancellor's promise not to introduce legal aid block contracts “generally” until after the key Woolf proposals are implemented.

“But we are concerned that there will be no piloting of the new fast track procedures”, says the spokesman. “The best way to check if these new proposals will work is to test them in specific courts.”

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said it still had “grave concerns” over the fast track and fixed costs system, which it believes will decrease, not increase, access to justice for personal injury victims.

Association of Personal Injury Lawyers president Caroline Harmer also expressed concern over funding for the reforms. She said: “We hope that there will be continuing political will over the next two years to resource the reforms because without this, quite frankly, chaos may result.”

The National Consumer Council welcomed the announcements wholeheartedly. Acting director Robert Simpson said: “These reforms will make the courts cheaper, more efficient, easier to understand fairer, especially to the weaker party in a case.”

Legal groups are still waiting for an announcement about the Lord Chancellor's intentions to establish a Civil Justice Council to advise the new head of civil justice, vice chancellor Sir Richard Scott.