£10m "raid" on medical negligence compensation shelved by Justice ministry


Following pressure from campaigning critics and legal experts, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has abandoned a plan to raid 25% of the "general damages" paid in publicly-funded medical negligence compensation cases.

Medical Negligence Compensation Cases

Ministers had hoped the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme would help claw back part of the billions spent every year on legal aid in England and Wales, most of which goes to legal defence in criminal cases.

Officials also believed that raiding damages, which yearly could have affected thousands of families caring for brain-damaged children, would have reduced the bill still more as others were dissuaded from claiming legal aid.

£2.1bn was spent on legal aid in 2008-09. Of this, £1.2bn was paid to solicitors in criminal trials, with the remaining £0.9bn spent on lawyers for civil cases.

The MoJ originally estimated it would have recouped £10m a year, £9m through medical negligence compensation and £1m in housing disputes. It would involve "around 5,000 successful damages cases".

Welcoming the MoJ's u-turn, the patient safety charity Action against Medical Accidents (AVMA) said it "beggars belief" that previous minsters were willing to raid the damages of children brain-damaged due to medical negligence in order to subsidise their department.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Having carefully considered the views expressed in a recent stakeholder engagement exercise, ministers have decided not to proceed with implementation of the proposed Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme in April 2013."

The spokesman added that the £2bn British legal aid system is one of the most expensive in the world, "which in the current financial climate we just cannot continue to afford".

"Our reforms target legal aid at the people who need legal support the most, and on the most serious cases. This means taxpayers will know their money is really helping people, and is not fuelling unnecessary legal action. We estimate the legal aid budget will be cut by £320m in 2014/15 as a result of our reforms."

The AVMA chief executive Peter Walsh said the charity was grateful to the new ministers at the Ministry of Justice for acknowledging the "gross unfairness and irrationality of their predecessors' plans".

"We hope that this more enlightened approach will lead to further changes to protect access to justice for victims of clinical negligence," Mr Walsh said.

Seeking to take away funding from divorce disputes and the majority of clinical negligence allegations, the MoJ asked whether the state has the right to use taxpayers' money to subsidise private individuals' cases.

The only medical category to retain funding was that of babies brain-damaged at birth who need critical care for the rest of their lives. Such cases currently take years to reach the High Court, during which time the child's parents have to pay for special support equipment and accommodation and are often forced to leave their jobs to provide full-time care.

To cover pain, suffering and past losses, they receive a sum of general damages when their claims against doctors are settled, together with special damages to cover future medical needs.

However, under the now-shelved scheme families would have lost 25% of the general damages. This could potentially amount to some £100,000, which parents might already have spent on looking after their children.

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