Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Panel tackles court reform at DU legal summit

Harry Woolf, an architect of English civil law reform and the retired Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, had a message for an assembled panel of legal experts at the University of Denver on April 10: Simplify.

Woolf, who authored the “Woolf Report” on alternative dispute resolution in England, joined a panel of distinguished legal minds at the Civil Justice Reform Summit hosted by DU’s Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

The Institute, led by former Colorado Supreme Court justice Rebecca Love Kourlis, is devoted to reforming the American legal system.

“Everyone is concerned about the cost and complexity of the civil system,” Kourlis said. “Everyone is concerned that we are pricing the litigants out of the court system.”

Key areas in need of reform in civil courts include the lengthy process of discovery, the barrage of motions attorneys file and the extensive use of expert witnesses. The process is becoming too cumbersome and too expensive for ordinary people to navigate, she said.

Woolf said he has pressed for efficiency in England. When possible, everything should be done to encourage dispute resolution outside of court, instead of litigating, he said.

He has argued for discovery rules that bar opposing parties from bombarding each other with reams of irrelevant paperwork or pointless motions, and he has worked to eliminate jargon in favor of clear, declarative sentences that express arguments in terms a layman could understand.

“The whole idea of this process was not to push parties apart but to pull them together,” he said. “A great deal of litigation in my country is now settled without any proceedings.”

Summit attendees included Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Justice Michael Bender of the Colorado Supreme Court, Chief Judge Janice Davidson of the Colorado Court of Appeals and Dean José Roberto Juárez Jr. from DU’s Sturm College of Law, among others.

Reflecting on his reform efforts in England and the task facing the Institute in the American legal system, Woolf said the work is important because the rest of the world looks to English and American legal systems for guidance.

“We all have a very heavy responsibility,” he said.

Comments are closed.