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Monday, 28 November 2011

Blunting the cutting edge

My first real job as a lawyer was at the Vauxhall Law Centre in Liverpool. In the early 80s this was in one of the most deprived areas in the UK. We took action against public and private landlords for tenants in atrocious living conditions. We took on cases that private law firms could not or would not.

 I recall one client who said she wanted advice about her husband's 'infidelity'. I listened with interest as she went on to say that the social said he could work and were stopping his infidelity benefit!

It was the Law Centre that I first experienced law at the cutting edge. Cases were taken on to develop the law as it affected some extremely vulnerable clients. These were normally backed by legal aid. One case, about disturbance allowance,  was run to trial in the High Court with a possible value to the client of a couple of hundred pounds but potentially worth millions to displaced tenants generally. This has been one of the unsung benefits of a healthy, publicly funded scheme. Our laws have developed through the use of precedent as such cases are pursued through the higher courts.

This is highly unlikely to happen much in the future.

In so many areas of law cases can only be run on a no win no fee basis as funding has been eroded. The nature of these cutting edge cases is that they are risky. How many law firms can stake their business to change the law. Some do. Most cannot. This is bound to continue as whole areas of law are excluded from legal aid.

The capacity of our laws to develop through creative ltigation has made our system the envy of many.

It does seem a shame that only the safest of cases will be pursued - and many of them will not!

What future for our common law apart from those pursued for and by the wealthy?

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