Call for time limits in civil court cases

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STRICT TIME limits should be introduced to cut costs in civil court cases along with a drastic reduction in the amount of paperwork, which has reached 'ludicrous' proportions, the Law Society's annual conference was told yesterday, writes Jason Bennetto.

Up to 90 per cent of the 'mountains' of documents produced in civil trials were 'totally useless', Charles Elly, president of the society, told the meeting in London. He said reforms were urgently needed to reduce escalating costs.

He was also critical of barristers' performance. 'Advocacy ought to be about putting arguments persuasively, but as briefly and succinctly as possible. More often it is about leaving no stone unturned. No question, however remotely relevant, is left unasked. No argument however fanciful is unexplored. Only fixed time limits for trials will stop this.'

In future, he would like courts to agree a maximum time limit for each aspect of the trial - such as summing up, cross-examination, and opening the case - before it starts.

'Everyone now recognises that the cost of going to court is too high,' he said. Typical cases held in the civil courts are those

involving personal injuries, bankruptcy, medical negligence and breach of contract.

'Every day of the week in litigation offices, thousands of pages are being photocopied dozens of times, costing our clients untold amounts . . . As much as 90 per cent of these photocopies may be totally useless to the process of adjudication on the case.'

In the United States, lawyers are given 30 minutes to present a brief to the Supreme Court. But Mr Elly said that limits should not be extended to criminal cases because they were often more complex than civil actions, and restriction could lead to miscarriages of justice.