How effective were the 1999 Woolf reforms?
Lord Woolf was appointed by the previous Conservative Government to carry out a far-reaching review of the civil justice system. In access to justice: final report (99), he stated that a civil justice system should:
ÃÂ· Be just in the results it delivers;
ÃÂ· Be fair in the way it treat litigants;
ÃÂ· Offer appropriate procedures at reasonable cost;
ÃÂ· Deal with cases with reasonable speed;
ÃÂ· Be understandable to those who use it;
ÃÂ· Be responsive to the needs of those who use it;
ÃÂ· Provide as much certainty as the nature of particular cases allows;
ÃÂ· Be effective, adequately resourced and organised.
Lord Woolf stated that pre-99 the system failed to achieve all of the above goals.
Research carried out found that one side's cost exceeded the amount in dispute in over 40% of cases where the claim was fewer than 12,500.
Claims between 12,500 and 25,000 costs were between 40% and 90% of the claim e.g. a bill for one claim of just 2,000 came to 69,295. The survey concluded that the simplest cases often incurred the highest costs in proportion to the value of the claim. The sheer length of civil proceeding also affected the size of the bill.
The Review found that the civil justice system was overstretched, and the time for the incident to arise to the claim and trial could be up to three years for county courts and five for high courts. The average waiting time for a county court claim was 79 weeks. According to the Civil Justice Review, long delays placed intolerable psychological and financial burdens on accident victims. The overall result was to lower public estimation of legal system as a whole. The main complaints were that county courts...