The Civil Process

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Civil Justice System pre-1999

Prior to Lord Woolf's review, depending on where a case began it followed a separate procedure. For cases in the High Court or Court of Appeal, they referred to the 'White Book' while cases in the County Court referred to the 'Green Book'. The commencement of a case began differently too, High Court cases began with a writ, County Court cases began with a Summons. Lord Woolf was tasked with reforming the civil justice system and undertook his review in 1996. He published his Access to Justice: Final Report  in 1996. He concluded that the civil justice system had some key flaws: 

  • Expensive
  • Delay
  • Complex
  • Adversarial Culture
  • Unjust
  • Over emphasis on oral evidence

The recommendations placed within Lord Woolf's report were put into effect in the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, one of the largest reforms of the civil justice system to ever occur. 

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Civil Justice System post-1999

The overriding objective of the reform was to deal with a case justly so far as practicable and to provide a simplified common procedural code. The main changes to the system are as follows: 

Pre-Action Protocols: A claimant must complete this stage when commencing their case, the claimant would set the grounds for their case in an N1 form. The defendant is informed that a claim is being held against them and they must either accept or deny liability. 

Case Management: Parties are given an allocation questionnaire to determine which track is used, and this is decided by either a District Judge or Procedural Judge. Additionally judges have proactive powers to issue timetables and sanctions to improve efficiency and reduce expense. 

Track System: Small Claims are cases under £10K and heard in the small claims court, Fast Track are cases between £5K-25K and are heard in the County Court, and Multi Track cases are over £25K and can be heard in either the County Court or High Court. 

ADR:Parties can postpone proceedings and attempt to settle the case via Alternative Dispute Resolution 

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Evaluation of the Reforms

Two key reports contribute to the evaluation of the reforms: 'Zander on Woolf' by Michael Zander, and 'A few Home Truths' by Tony Allen. 

Cost: Early exchange of information leads to large initial costs, however, these expenses seem unnecessary as a lot of cases are now settled before trial. Nonetheless, Woolf believes that an earlier appreciation of the facts means a fuller appreciation of them leading to a better result. 

Delay: Delay is said to have remained the same, Zander argues that the introduction of fixed date trials do not give legal professionals sufficient time to prepare. Allen, on the other hand, believes waiting lists have dwindled and cases reach trial quicker since the introduction of advance notice.

Judicial Case Management: Zander believes that lawyers are not the only delay, therefore it was reductionist to assume this. 

Complexity: Despite Lord Woolf aiming to make the system simpler but Peter Thompson QC identified that the old rules had 391 pages of the procedure while the new rules have 2,301 pages of the procedure with 49 updates. 

Adversarial 

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Evaluation of the Reforms cont.

Complexity: Despite Lord Woolf aiming to make the system simpler but Peter Thompson QC identified that the old rules had 391 pages of the procedure while the new rules have 2,301 pages of the procedure with 49 updates. 

Adversarial Culture: Zander believes this has improved since more cases are settling out of court. Although, Zander argues that Woolf believing the main cause of delay was misplaced. 

ADR: Allen believes ADR is pivotal and thus he argues that it is not being enforced at the allocation stage. However, it must be stressed that ADR should not be forced upon parties since this violates Article 6 ECHR. 

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