Government reforms will limit access to justice

Dated:

The Government's decision to push ahead with the implementation of its controversial legal reform in the shape of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill can only be bad news for claimants.

Simpson Millar deeply opposes the Coalition Government's announcement introduction of legislation which will ultimately lead to the removal of legal aid for victims of medical neglect. It will become far more difficult for accident victims to gain access to justice when they have been injured through no fault of their own.

If enacted, this Bill will do away with No Win No Fee Agreements which currently allow all legal costs, including the solicitor's success fee, to be recovered from the negligent defendant. Under this proposed Act, the accident victim will be expected to give up 25% of his compensation towards his solicitor's costs even in cases where the defendant has been grossly negligent.

Simpson Millar's Managing Partner Peter Watson said: "Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke's legal aid cuts have been criticised for being 'penny wise, but pound foolish' but nevertheless he has remained recklessly determined to implement these changes. It seems he hasn't listened to a word uttered by those who represent claimants and as a result they are the true losers if these reforms go ahead unchanged and unchallenged".

Legal Aid and Compensations Claims

To add insult to injury, accident victims will no longer be able to take out affordable after the event insurance to protect them from the risk of having to pay the defendants legal costs and pay their own disbursements, if their case is unsuccessful. Instead, the Government intends to introduce a system of Qualified One Way Costs Shifting which is needlessly complicated and impossible to understand.

The consultation process leading to this Bill was unfair, flawed and driven by myths, misinformation and bias from the insurance industry. Sadly, the rights of ordinary injury victims have been largely overlooked.

Emma Costin, Partner at national law firm Simpson Millar LLP says: "These reforms go to the heart of the long established principle that the polluter pays. In future the injured party will be required to subsidise the cost of bringing a claim out of his or her compensation."

"There will be an inequality of arms with insurers able to call on vastly greater resources to defend claims in comparison with the claimant side, anxious to limit their clients' exposure to costs. People with perfectly good claims will decide against bringing those claims for fear of future cost liability. The only winners will be the insurers."

However, the fight for justice is not over. Simpson Millar will continue to lobby hard for the rights of accident victims as the Bill passes through parliament and the Lords.

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