They fear that the shake-up, designed to make the judicial process quicker and fairer, could be hit by unforeseen snags. Henry Sherman, partner with city lawyer Cameron McKenna, said: "There has been a lack of pilot studies to show how Lord Woolf's reforms will work and what the pitfalls are."
Sherman noted that judges had been on crash courses to learn about the 1500 pages of reforms. "We are told that there are enough [judges] up to speed," he said, "but if they are learning on the job, I don't want it to be my case that they're learning on."
Lord Woolf produced his report, Access to Justice, in June 1995. It aims to streamline litigation so that it is faster and available to all, regardless of financial status. It is expected that fast-track cases will be heard within 30 weeks.
The new civil procedure rules will take the responsibility for managing the case out of the hands of the litigants. Instead, judges will control the procedures, appointing expert witnesses, and will impose sanctions on those who do not comply with their directions.
The changes are also intended to head off "speculative litigation". Currently, some litigants issue writs with little detail in them in a bid to force disputees to the negotiating table. Under the new rules, writs must be backed with significant detail. It is expected that, from Monday, only those with serious cases will issue writs.