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Witness statements next target for reform, predicts new LSLA president

Acratopulo: Willingness to consider system

Witness statements are likely to be the next focus for reform after disclosure, the new president of the London Solicitors Litigation Association (LSLA) has predicted.

Julian Acratopulo, head of international commercial litigation at Clifford Chance, said witness statements could make up a “considerable part of the cost” of litigation and had “attracted attention over the years” as suitable for reform.

Mr Acratopulo said that, in a similar way to disclosure, there was a “willingness by both the judiciary and practitioners to consider the system we have and whether it is appropriate”.

He went on: “Witness statements were introduced to reduce the need for oral evidence at trial. They were designed to promote efficiency, but there are competing views on their value, given their length and the purpose for which they were introduced.”

A pilot scheme to streamline disclosure is to be launched in the Business and Property Courts this autumn, based on proposals from a Rolls Building working group chaired by Lady Justice Gloster and including former LSLA president Ed Crosse.

The proposals were strongly criticised by the Law Society [1] earlier this month, which called for the pilot to be voluntary for certain types of litigation and all cases worth less than £500,000.

Mr Acratopulo said the reforms had given lawyers a “real sense of engagement and collaboration”, and there had been a “constructive and sensible” debate about the proposals, but such a complex topic was bound to elicit a range of views.

Turning to Brexit, he said that despite this week’s announcement of a transition agreement, uncertainties would continue.

“The common law has a very strong reputation, and we in London have a real depth of experience and talent that makes us the envy of the world and is difficult to replicate elsewhere.

“I don’t think the reasons why people want to litigate in London will suddenly change but the profession must recognise that we can’t rest on our laurels.

“I’m not sure we’re clear on what the transition agreement will lead to. Our litigation system must remain competitive. New York, Paris, Frankfurt, Dubai and the Netherlands are all seeking to win the dispute resolution work we do.”

Mr Acratopulo added that a survey by the LSLA found that two-thirds of lawyers did not believe fixed costs should be introduced for lower-value commercial cases, as Lord Justice Jackson’s report last summer envisaged.

“Imposing these sort of costs caps can have unintended consequences. It will not change the nature of the process, but it could change the ability of parties to recover costs and prevent them from pursuing meritorious claims.”