LETTER : Pious hopes for legal reform

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The Independent Online
From Mr Gary Slapper

Sir: The central flaw in Access to Justice, Lord Woolf's strategy to improve civil justice (" `Failing' civil courts face radical shake-up", 17 June) is that it aims to achieve much with little or no extra resources.

The report makes a very wide range of proposals, some of which are easily achievable (eg that "court buildings should be clearly signposted") while others are rather pious hopes (eg that "the law in relation to housing should be simplified").

The main thrust of the panoply of recommendations, however, is to provide a quick, cheap McTrial for most disputants while businesses can use a more fastidious, sensitive process.

The shake-up is being presented as an exercise to eliminate the Dickensian dilatoriness of civil proceedings and their prohibitive expense: features which have made many people miserable and a few lawyers very wealthy. It should be recognised, however, that changing the system as planned will simply create a different problem. Differential access to the legal machinery will be lessened but the qualities of legal justice available will dramatically vary.

Yours faithfully,

GARY SLAPPER

The Law School

Staffordshire University

Stoke-on-Trent

20 June

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