Woolf reforms

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Woolf reforms

Before Woolf reforms in April 1999, there were 2 seperate sets of civil procedure depending on where case commenced.For cases in HC and COA there was a 'White Book' and cases in CC there was 'Green Book'.

There were different rocedures for commencing case. Case in CC was started with Summons but case in HC started with Writ. System had tendency to be confusing for plaintiffs with differing rules of procedure and evidence.

Lord Woolf's report on civil reform was published in July 1996= Access to Justice: Final Report. He sought to tack some of civil justice process criticisms:

  • expensive (costs exceeded amount in dispute),
  • delays (3-5 years to reeach trial), complex (differing procedures in CC/HC so lawyers highered increasing costs for plaintiffs),
  • adversial (exploiting system rather than co-operation between parties),
  • unjust (unwealthy v wealth imbalance),
  • emphasis on oral evidence (lead to trials slow/inefficient, could be pre-assessed by judge leading to increase in costs with expert witnesses having high fees).
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Woolf reforms

His recommendations took effect in 1997 Civil Procedure Act which laid down new rules governing civil claims. Included:

1) Encourages out of court settlements- Act introduced pre action protocols (procedures to follow before starting court action) that encourages the parties to share info and negotiate. Parties can take break from litigation to try ADR e.g. mediation.

2) Introducing 'proportionality' in respect of costs so costs associated with claim e.g. expert witnesses shouldnt be disproportionate to size of claim. 

3) Oral submissions are to be limited with more emphasis on written submissions.

4) Limiting use of expert witnesses, particularly fast track claims.

5) Judges formally trainined Trial Mangers so become involed in administration of courts and provide 'hands on' management of cases dictating pace of hearings, enforcing strict time limites, taking responsibility for calling of witnesses so ensure equality for litigants, pre-action protocols designed to detmines costs and chargers before trial commences,

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Woolf reforms

6) Judges should become familiar with info technology e.g. laptop computers and video conference facilities.

7) Judges to have greater powers to stike out unworthy actions/settle out of court. Greater powers to impose sanctions in cases where layers fail to meet the required deadlines.

8) Encouragement of ADR with emphasis on arbitration, mediation and ombusment to facilitate out of court settlements.

9) Provision for some courts to sit in evenings/weekends with mobile hearings being operated in remote rural areas. 

10) tracks which cases will be allocated according to value and complexity- small claims (up to £10,000 excluding cases on land posession an personal injury, procedure involve CC arbitration by District Judge without legal aid), fast track (£10-25,000. Procedure in CC and fixed 5-hour hearing. Preliminary work done on paper and legal aid avaiable capped at £2,5000) and multi track (claims over £25,000. Judge control procedure, complex cases involve case management conference before single judge followed by pretrial review and trial judge HC and non complex cases heard by Circuit/District Judges under 'no frills' procedure with fixed budget. 

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Woolf reforms

So the Access to Justice Report and Civil Procedure Act 1997 finalized a number of reforms of civil justice that had started in 1990. These reforms took effect in 1999.

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Lord Woolf him,self summarized the advantages of h

  • They would end the system of 'trial by combat' that encourages unreasonable behaviour. 
  • They would created a simpler, more accessible, more flexible system.
  • Cases would be handled in a manner proportionate to their value and complexity,
  • There would be greater certainty over cost and duration proceedings.
  • The new systen would ensure a 'level playing field' for litigants preventing wealthier litigants from playing with system to their advantage. 
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Criticisms of the reform

Two key reports:

'Zander on Woolf'- Michael Zander, New Law Journal 13 March 2009.

'A Few Home Truths'- Tony Allen, New Law Journal 3 April 2009.

Mixed responses to passing Civil Procedure Rukes 1998, on the whole haven't met with much approval. Key commentators in area include Prof. Michael Zander and Tony Allen.

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Criticisms of the reform


Early exchange of info means there's front loading costs.

Many cases settle before trial therefore needles costs for clients BUT Woolf says that an earlier appreciation of facts means fuller appreciation of them leading to better result.

Advisoty Committe on Civil Costs set up to monitor litigation costs.

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Criticisms of the reform


Delay remained same, despite intro of fixed date trials. 

Zander argues fixed trial dates mean there's no time for legal professionals to undertake through prep. 


Allen believes advance notice and exchange of info HAS to be a thing- why encourage ambush?

Allen believes waiting lists have dwindled and cases seem to reach trial quicker. 

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Criticisms of the reform

Judicial case management-

Not been successful because Zander believes lawyers aren't only sources of delay.

There's a delay:

  • caused by parties
  • difficulty in getting reports from experts and court administration.

Zander believes Eoolf ignored this and just saw layers as villains.

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Criticisms of the reform


Lord Woolf wanted civil justice system to be simpler- Peter Thompson QC- under the old rules there were 391 pages of procedure, under new there are 2,301 pages with 49 updates. 

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Criticisms of the reform

Adversary culture-

  • Zander believes this area to have worked as more cases are settling out of court.
  • However, he contends that Woolf's findings that the primary causes of delay was adversial process was misplaced. 
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Criticisms of the reform

Encouragement of ADR-

Allen argues that requirement to try ADR isn't being enforced at allocation stage.

Allen's great supporter of mediation and is questioning sanctions given for UNREASONABLE LITIGATION BEHAVIOUR. What could be deemed to be unreasonable?

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Criticisms of the reform

Most would argue reforms been successful, there's still a problem with controlling legal fees and ensuring cases get to court in tim, reflecting a difficulty in enforcing sanctions against soliciotrs and barristers.

Research by Hazel Genn suggestes the Woolf reforms are working-

  • pre-action protocols are promoting settlemet, making an application to court unnecessary. 
  • most cases settling earlier, fewer cases settling at door of court. 

However, costs increased/been front-loaded. In particular cases where mediation been attempted and agreement hasn't been reached, costs clearly higher for parties.

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