Radical review of civil courts seeks cheap and quick justice

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The Independent Online

Revolutionary proposals to speed up the slow and costly English courts will be unveiled today in the biggest reform of civil justice this century.

The law lord, Lord Woolf, who has been appointed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, to recommend a radical overhaul of the system, will publish his preliminary findings today.

One of Lord Woolf's proposals will be to increase the limit for damages which can be paid through the informal small claims court from the present limit of pounds 1,000 up to pounds 3,000.

He is also expected to propose a new fast track court which would handle disputes involving up to pounds 10,000. This tribunal would have a fixed three- hour hearing, a limit on legal costs and guarantee a court date within six months of lodging a writ.

Lord Woolf's brief has been to find ways to make civil justice simpler, quicker and cheaper, making it available to more people. He has been consulting widely and believes the present system, where legal costs often run into tens of thousands of pounds and exceed the damages awarded, is unacceptable.

His report, which is expected to run to 250 pages and contain more than 100 recommendations, is thought to include many proposals which could be implemented without legislation.

Lord Mackay is under pressure to keep limits on the legal aid budget and will be anxious to implement changes quickly.

Lord Woolf is known to want to encourage as many potential litigants as possible to use mediation rather than the courts.