Litigants frustrated by needless delays
A Law Society working party report on civil justice reform has called for more judges to be appointed to the High Court to cope with the increasingly heavy caseload.
The report highlighted some problems faced by civil litigants. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The biggest problem relates to solicitors, and the outdated system of deadlines for each stage of the legal process.
From the moment a writ is served the defendant has 14 days to respond. Solicitors are seldom able to prepare a defence or counter-claim within 14 days. Therefore, they go to court to ask for an extension. The plaintiff often refuses to consent to one.
However, an extension is normally granted and the whole process is repeated in another 14 days. It is normal for at least one extension and sometimes more than one to be allowed. Every time a solicitor goes to court for an extension, even if it is through no fault of the client, the client ultimately ends up paying for the lawyer's procrastination. And solicitors are known for causing serious delays.
One way or another, clients end up paying more than they should. Because of unnecessary delays, many litigants give up halfway, frustrated with the judicial system and mounting costs, but not knowing that their own lawyers are the real cause of delays.
The fastest way to stop this is for the Legal Aid Department to shake up the profession by taking up one blatant case in the public interest and taking offending lawyers to court. This would be the litmus test.
A judicial ruling is far more effective than setting up several committees or issuing countless reports.