Lord Woolf’s Reforms

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Essay Title: “Although settlement, rather than litigation, poses a number of problems for a civil justice system these matters have been largely resolved by Lord Woolf’s reforms.”

What is civil justice system?
There are several definitions for the civil justice system.
Every civilized system of government requires that the state should make available to all its citizens a means for the just and peaceful settlement of disputes between them as to their respective legal rights. The means provided are courts of justice to which every citizen has a constitutional right of access. Lord Diplock in Bremer Vulkan Schiffb au and Maschinenfabrik v South India Shipping Corp. [1981] AC 909, HL, p. 976.

The justification of a legal system and procedures must be one of lesser evils, that legal resolution of disputes is preferable to blood feuds, rampant crime and violence. M. Bayles, ‘Principles for legal procedure’, Law and Philosophy, 5:1 (1986), 33–57, 57.

The first impulse of a rudimentary soul is to do justice by his own hand. Only at the cost of mighty historical efforts has it been possible to supplant in the human soul the idea of self-obtained justice by the idea of justice entrusted to authorities. Eduardo J. Couture, ‘The nature of the judicial process’, Tulane Law Review, 25 (1950), 1–28, 7.

There have been over 60 official reports on the subject of civil processing the past. Latest published reports were Evershed Report in 1953, the report of the Winn Committee in 1968, the Cantley Working Party in 1979, the Civil Justice Review in the late 1980s and the Woolf. All those reports are focused on the same objects like how to reduce complexity, delay and the cost of civil litigation.

What are the problems before reforms?
This is a mere compare of the pre-Woolf and post-Woolf civil landscape without baseline statistics. As research for the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) on the pre-Woolf litigation landscape (pre-1999) demonstrates that: * 50% - 83% of defended cases in the county courts were personal injury (PI) claims * overall at least 75% of cases were within the small claims or fast track financial limit; in most courts this figure was 85% or more * the higher the value of the claim, the more likely both sides were to have legal representation * PI cases had high settlement rates and a small number of trials. Non-PI cases had a higher proportion of trials, and a much higher proportion of cases withdrawn. Debt cases were most likely to end in trial (38%) and in all of those the claimant succeeded. In 96% of all cases going to trial the claimant was successful * In all types of cases 50% of awards or settlements were for £1,000 - £5,000, and a further 25% - 33% were for £5,000 - £10,000. Costs in non-PI cases were relatively modest, and in PI cases around 50% had costs of £2,000 or less, 24% had over £4,000. Wolf Reforms

Lord Woolf’s approach to reform was to encourage the early settlement of disputes through a combination of pre-action protocols, active case management by the courts, and cost penalties for parties who unreasonably refused to attempt negotiation or consider ADR. Such evidence as there is indicates that the Woolf reforms are working, to the extent that pre-action protocols are promoting settlement before application is made to the court; most cases are settling earlier, and fewer cases are settling at the door of the court. In fact, most cases are now settled without a hearing. Lord Woolf, Access to Justice (Final Report, July 1996), identified a number of principles which the civil justice system should meet in order to ensure access to justice. The system should: (a) Be just in the results it delivers;

(b) Be fair in the way it treats litigants;
(c) Offer appropriate procedures at a reasonable cost;
(d) Deal with cases with reasonable speed;
(e) Be understandable to those who use it;
(f) Be responsive to the needs of those who use it;
(g) Provide as much...
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