A leading insurance lawyer has raised the prospect that the new Human Rights Act could be used to challenge Lord Woolf's civil justice reforms.

Barney Micklem, of Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, said the Woolf reforms have increased judges' powers to resolve disputes and curtail cases.

In particular, civil courts can strike out cases on the grounds of delay, or vague and doubtful argument.

But these powers may be threatened by the Human Rights Act 1998 which comes into force in October 2000.

This will incorporate article six of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights into UK law.

It specifies a universal right to a "fair and public hearing" in the determination of a citizen's civil rights.

Micklem said a European Court of Human Rights judgment has cast doubt on whether an application to strike out a case constituted a fair hearing.

"On the face of it, a strike out hearing does not amount to a 'fair and public hearing by a tribunal'," he said.

Micklem expects the new law to increase claims and overload the courts.