A new effort to codify the criminal law to make it easier to understand is long overdue, the lord chief justice has said, recommending the drafting of 'a single document that sets out the nature of criminal conduct'.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd told a dinner for Her Majesty’s judges at Mansion House in London last night that criminal law 'is contained in a maze of innumerable, to some, but of course not those who are at that court, impenetrable, statutes and common law developments over the centuries, which it is difficult to defend as entirely rational'.

As such it is 'long overdue for clarification and simplification', he said. 'We ought to be able to look to a single document that sets out the nature of criminal conduct: in other words, a modern code.’

Having a code did not mean that every member of society should be their own lawyer, Lord Thomas said. 'No one would suggest that we should all be our own physicians, even if what some describe as Dr Google is the modern neurotic's best friend.’

Lord Thomas predicted that the days of mixed practice - with fewer advocates entering criminal practice as a result of increasing specialisation at the bar and among solicitor advocacy - are on the way out.

Highlighting the success of the Law Commission’s work so far in producing a sentencing code, Lord Thomas suggested a code for criminal law would be an ‘excellent centrepiece’ for the 13th programme the commission is about to embark upon.

Commenting on the success of a specialist list hosted in the London-based Rolls Building to deal with financial market cases, Lord Thomas said many states across the world were developing their own commercial courts.

‘They are doing so not merely to increase their share of the profitable dispute resolution business, but to buttress their position and the position of their state in ever more closely interconnected international markets and economies.’

Lord Thomas added that the first meeting of a newly established Forum of International Commercial Courts will be held in London next May.