Cheaper justice plans welcomed

PLANS that could lead to the most radical reform of civil justice in England and Wales for 300 years were welcomed by the Law Society and the Bar Council yesterday.

Lord Woolf, who is heading a government inquiry into civil law reform, was quoted yesterday as saying that he wanted to make justice speedier and more affordable for ordinary people.

A spokesman for the Law Society, which represents 76,000 solicitors in England and Wales, said the society broadly supported anything which would cut the cost and delays of litigation.

A spokesman for the Bar Council, which represents 7,700 barristers in England and Wales, also supported the proposal, subject to the interests of justice being protected and an examination of the inquiry's recommendations. Lord Woolf told the Observer: 'We have a very good system of justice - but no one can afford it . . . It is very important that justice should be done, but if costs are prohibitive that itself is an injustice.'

He proposes creating procedural judges who will simplify civil actions and bring them under a single set of rules; transfer control of civil actions from the parties and lawyers to the courts; set a ceiling on costs at the outset; lay down a timetable for cases to be heard; appoint expert witnesses to help the courts make a ruling and seek to halt, or limit the scope of, a case by getting the parties to agree about fundamental points of disagreement.