The president-elect of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers claims Lord Woolf's reforms have worked well in their first six months – but could be derailed by the harsh actions of a minority of judges.

Martin Staples, senior partner of London legal firm Vizards, Staples and Bannisters, said claims and legal proceedings have reduced significantly.

Communications between claimants' and defendants' lawyers had also improved, smoothing the resolution of claims.

However, he told a meeting of the London Underwriting Group, relations between some lawyers were being damaged by a small number of district judges making draconian orders, penalising parties out of all proportion to the issues.

Staples said this "get tough" approach was inappropriate for lawyers genuinely attempting to make the reforms work. In terms of underwriting, he said, insurers should recognise the need to front-load legal costs to comply with the Woolf protocols.

He added that insurers should also be aware of the introduction of success fees and rule changes allowing the recovery of premiums in conditional fee cases.