Lord Woolf pans expert survey critical of judges

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The Independent Online
LORD WOOLF, the Master of the Rolls, launched a robust defence of the judiciary yesterday, responding to a survey of expert court witnesses that found some judges to be sexist, racist and just plain dozy.

In one account, an expert even told of how a judge appeared drunk during a case.

Lord Woolf, one of the four most senior judges in the country, said it was this image that could undermine public confidence in the judiciary and so the rule of law. "I do believe our judges are of a high quality, on the whole, as any in any other jurisdiction," he said. "Most work very hard and do a good job."

He said he thought it was important that a senior judge rebutted the criticisms at the first opportunity because the public took seriously what was said by professionals who provided evidence as expert witnesses.

Speaking at the annual conference of expert witnesses held in London, Lord Woolf said that the criticisms did not accurately represent the judiciary. He added: "Whether you agree with me will depend on your experience."

He urged expert witnesses to be careful when responding to such surveys. "If you are being asked in a survey for an amusing incident, do make sure that it is one that is really justified. Because it's easy to refer to a judge being drunk when perhaps it's not something which is right," he said.

He also said sometimes expert witnesses might be critical of a judge's ruling on evidence with which the expert witness did not agree.

In the survey, of 712 experts, many judges came across as foolish or simply out of step with modern culture while others appeared unable to grasp technical detail.

Mark Solon, whose company Bond Solon conducted the survey, said expert witnesses were in court to assist judges on the technical detail.

But, he said, they sometimes "discovered, to their cost, that the judge was not picking up the evidence". Mr Solon suggested that in cases with complex evidence judges could have "expert assessors" sitting next to them, offering guidance, throughout expert testimony.

Lord Woolf was speaking six months after the implementation of his rules, which heralded an historic shake-up in the civil courts. He said that already changes were being felt. For instance, courts were told not to use two expert witnesses when a single expert would suffice

"The change of culture is taking root... more cases are being settled earlier," he said, adding that the days when cases took ten years to conclude were coming to an end.