Friday, April 23, 1999 Published at 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
Civil courts to modernise
By Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg
New rules aimed at making the civil courts of England and Wales fairer, cheaper and quicker will be put into action on 26 April in the biggest change in court procedures this century.
The Conservative government took up his suggestion, and asked him to come with a set of improvements. These recommendations are now being put into effect by the current government.
Lord Woolf said a more mundane system of justice was needed for straightforward cases, and that judges had to take a more active role in the proceedings. This would save time and money, and make the system more accessible for everyone.
Historical call for change
Suggestions for changes to the civil court system are not new; during the 19th century the government's Judicature Commission said the High Court and the county courts could be more efficient if they were combined into a single system. Both deal with non-criminal cases.
Although the two courts are still separate, they have been take a step closer to combining by now sharing the same Civil Procedure Rules. But plain English, rather than the old-fashioned legal expressions, will be used:
Cases will be divided into three main areas: small claims worth less than £5,000; straightforward cases worth between £5,000 and £15,000 and big commercial cases.
The small claims will involve arbitration before a district judge, without the possibility of recovering lawyers' costs.
The second area will be dealt with under a fast-track procedure, covering consumer and personal injuries. The amount of costs recoverable will be strictly limited, as will the length of the trial.
The amount of time devoted to the commercial cases, under the multi-track system, will be decided by judges, rather than the lawyers.
The main objective of these new procedures is to deal with cases more justly. The changes should be seen in the following ways: