The following essay will discuss and analyse whether the Woolf reforms have been successful in reducing costs of litigation and settling disputes early. It will also debate between advantages and disadvantages of the reforms process and examine the criticisms the process has faced.
The philosophy of Woolf reforms was arranged around escaping litigation or at least reducing its costs and fostering settlement between parties at disagreement. While there are still some objections against the process, certainly it can be seen that the Reforms were very well acknowledged and received by several sectors of the legal profession. 1 The NCC (National Consumer Council) in 1955 carried out a research through a survey between 1,019 respondents. The results were shockingly dissatisfactory. Out of 1019 people, 73% said the civil justice system was hostile, obsolete, complex and extremely sluggish. Also, more than 50% of respondents that had been involved in legal disputes expressed displeasure and dissatisfaction with the justice system. 2
The government assigned Lord Woolf to carry out an analysis and refurbish the justice system. Many issues came to the forefront, mainly including over complexity, slow procedures and high cost. Such issues have been wreaking the civil justice system for centuries. 3 The entire spirit of civil justice is obliged to collapse if hearings, which in itself is a pricey affair, cannot offer appropriate, less costly and simple justness.
Lord Woolf wanted to eradicate the weaknesses in the civil justice system which were classified as being: overpriced, time-consuming, missing fairness between influential and rich plaintiffs and under-resourced litigants.
Main aims of all these reforms was to: Urge early settlement between legal disputes, avoid litigation, encourage parties to be more cooperative, and reduce the cost, delay and complexity of litigation.
Even though for many people and law sectors, the Woolf reforms has been proven to be beneficial and efficient, it still has been critiqued and it was debated that settlements that are out of court may create injustice, as some parties who are more influential due to their financial background can result in prejudiced conclusions. 4 Lord Justice Jacksons initial investigation on expenses evaluation verifies the view that costs of trials have risen higher due to ‘front loading’ 5.
Micheal Zander, a British legal scholar and a law professor at London School of Economics is one of the major critics of the Woolf reforms. He raised many objections against the process, and has been against it for a long time.
Zander was concerned about many issues, mainly including:
Ø “Massive burden” on parties to enter settlement once the case began which could result in unfair conclusions.
Ø His primary sources suggested that the overall time remained almost the same before and after trials.
Ø Such developments might lead to judicial discretion in decision-making on pre-hearing judges, which can lead to inconsistent decisions.
Ø Some first hand sources suggesting that it is not necessary that pre-trial hearing will reduce cost and delay. 6
1 Seeking Civil Justice: A survey of people’s needs and experiences, 1995, NCC.
2 Genn, Judging civil justice: the Hamlyn lecture 2008( Cambridge university press,Cambridge: 2010 (Chapter 2) , pg 55.
3 Elliott and Quinn, The English Legal System 10th edition (Pearson:2009), Chapter 22, pg 511.
4 Elliot and Quinn, The English Legal System 10th edition (Pearson:2009), Chapter 22, pg 532.
5 Lord Justice Jackson, Civil litigation costs review, Preliminary Report(Judicial Office, 8th May 2009)
6 Zander, Cases and material on the English Legal System 10th edition( Cambridge University Press,2007) Chapter 2 Pre-trial proceedings, pg 118.
7. Michael Zander, Cases and material on the English Legal System 10th edition( Cambridge University Press,2007) Chapter 2 Pre-trial proceedings, pg 126.