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How Effective Were The 1999 Woolf Reforms?

1473 words - 6 pages

How effective were the 1999 Woolf reforms?Pre-99 problemsLord 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:· Be just in the results it delivers;· Be fair in the way it treat litigants;· Offer appropriate procedures at reasonable cost;· Deal with cases with reasonable speed;· Be understandable to those who use it;· Be responsive to the needs of those who use it;· Provide as much certainty as the nature of particular cases allows;· 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 had not been given enough administrators to cope with their new workloads due to the unsuccessful reforms made by the 1990 Courts and legal service act. The county courts were understaffed and under funded to cope with the increase in business.The high number of out-of-court settlements created injustice, because the parties generally held very unequal bargaining positions. In the first place, one party might be in a better financial position than the other might, and therefore under less pressure to keep cost down by settling quickly. Secondly, litigants could often be divided into 'one-shotters' and 'repeat players'. One-shotters are individuals probably involved in litigation for the first time in their life, for whom the procedure in unfamiliar and traumatic. In contrast, Repeat players, include companies and businesses e.g. insurance companies, for whom litigation is a routine. Where a repeat player and a one-shotter are on opposing sides as found in personal injury litigation, the repeat player is likely to have the upper hand in out-of-court bargaining.Thirdly, it was found that having a non-specialist lawyer could seriously prejudice a client's...

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