Justice in Crisis: England and Wales
It is well recognized that the existing system of civil procedure in England and Wales is beset by excessive costs, delay, and complexity. For example, litigation is very expensive, and it is generally impossible to predict the probable costs of an action accurately in advance. Cases can take many years to be heard, due to unchecked party delays and backlogs within the system. Complexity within the procedural laws compounds both cost and delay, not least by protracting litigation and widening the range of potential matters in dispute between the parties.
These three interdependent factors of cost, delay, and complexity significantly impair access to justice in this country for the majority of the population. In order to redress this problem, over the past decade several reforms have been suggested. The most far-reaching reform proposals are contained in a report by Lord Woolf MR, entitled Access to Justice.1 As a result of Lord Woolf's comprehensive review, a number of substantial procedural reforms are currently being introduced.
This essay will describe the existing system of civil procedure in England and Wales, 2 and identify the changing procedural principles that have underpinned English procedure over the past century.3 It will identify the key problems associated with cost and delay, drawing on available statistical information.
This essay was prepared in close consultation with the editor, Mr Adrian Zuckerman, whose advice and assistance proved absolutely invaluable. Significant help was also given by Ms Sue Gibbons, whose editorial skill contributed greatly to the essay's final shape. All errors and omissions, however, remain entirely the responsibility of the named author.