Money spent well today is money saved tomorrow

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The Independent Online
Any system that leaves the pace of a case to be set by the slowest lawyer, and then pays lawyers by the hour, is guaranteed to be both slow and expensive. Little wonder that today the average costs in the majority of cases almost exactly equal the damages awarded. Few can afford to use the courts at all and even big businesses can be scarred by the experience.

The problem, as Lord Woolf has realised, is not just the machinery, but the culture of the courts. Everybody has grown up to regard substantial delay as unavoidable. Even those who want reform - as solicitors and barristers always protest that they do - think they cannot fight the system.

So Lord Woolf's proposal that judges henceforward whip the lawyers through cases much more quickly should be welcomed. It would also help, as he says, if judges and counsel could actually use new technology to speed things up.

But, as Lord Woolf recognises, there have been no fewer than 60 reports on civil procedure since 1851 - the latest as recently as 1988 - all identifying similar problems. Their proposed solutions have either failed, or have been ignored by governments as too difficult or expensive.

If Woolf is to be different, judges will need to be properly trained in case management. Extra judges will have to be appointed if delays are to be removed. In the short term this will cost money. The Government and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, may be reluctant to pay up. In this case they would be wrong; today's expenditure really is tomorrow's saving.