The High Court approved a £1m settlement last month for Matthew Pearson, 15 this month, who was left with cerebral palsy after his mother, a nurse, underwent an emergency Caesarean section at his delivery.

It took nine years for Sunderland health authority to admit liability and another five years to agree on the size of the settlement.

Something must have gone badly wrong not only at the delivery, but also in the litigation which followed.

No case should take even half that time.

And the reforms spearheaded by Lord Woolf to speed up litigation mean that no case could take that long today.

Judges actively manage cases and lawyers adhere to protocols with time limits.

In June, Lord Woolf will move from the number two slot to the top judicial job in England and Wales, when he becomes lord chief justice.

His job as head of the civil side of the Appeal Court will go to Lord Phillips, who is currently immersed in the BSE inquiry.

A survey by the Centre for Dispute Resolution found that three out of four lawyers thought the new litigation rules have had a positive impact on the culture for settlement.

Lawyers particularly welcomed the new rule whereby claimants, and not just defendants, can put forward a settlement offer to the other side.