The Lord Chancellor has announced a review of the civil appellate procedure to deal with the increasing number of outstanding civil appeals.
A Lord Chancellor's Department spokeswoman said measures put in place during the past year, which include a fixed time for oral arguments and more hurdles to clear for leave to appeal, had been inadequate.
Lord Mackay said: “I consider the current level of delays in the Civil Division to be unacceptable and I do not believe that I can wait to see the full benefit of the measures taken in the last 12 months before taking further action.”
The Lord Chancellor also called for the appointment of three more Lords Justices “to provide some immediate relief” to the delays, in line with Master of Rolls Sir Thomas Bingham's recommendations made last November.
Both the Law Society and the Bar Council welcome the new appointments.
But Lord Mackay said repeated enlargement of the Bench was not the solution and that “the only viable long-term option is for there to be a review of the appellate procedure”.
The number of applications for leave to appeal has doubled in the past two years to 1,649. The backlog of cases has risen from 468 in 1990-91 to 1,183 in 1994-5.
The secretary of the Law Society's civil litigation committee, Suzanne Burn, said: “Waiting time for civil appeals has been getting quite ridiculous. It is not satisfactory that you can wait 18 months to two years for a decision on appeal.”
She said: “We would welcome a review if its aim was to try to find ways that appeals could be dealt with more quickly. But, if the object was to limit the right to appeal, we would not support it.”
The review will start in early autumn, within two months of publication of Lord Woolf's review of the civil courts. Terms of reference will be announced in April.