The coalition government has confirmed its determination to deprive children of the right to legal aid to pursue medical negligence claims.
When the bill was discussed in the House of Lords a number of amendments were put forward which include protecting legal aid in these cases, at least to cover the cost of getting medical reports. Ministers have now said that they intend to ignore the amendment and invoke one of the worst attacks on the legal rights of vulnerable children that I have ever come across.
A few years ago I acted for the family of a baby who had jaundice following birth. He was negligently discharged home without proper investigations and suffered from a serious condition related to the jaundice and which led to massive and permanent brain damage. He requires care for the rest of his life. Before an action could be mounted a series of investigations had to be carried out. We had to find out what had gone wrong. Who was at fault? Was the brain injury caused by the negligence or would it have happened anyway. These investigations ran to several thousand pounds. That expense was properly met by legal aid. The Trust eventually admitted liability and he received damages exceeding £2m.
Without the benefit of legal aid to cover the investigation that case would never have got off the ground. What parent could afford those expenses? Lawyers will always be willing to risk their own charges if they think a case has a reasonable chance. But it can cost a lot of money by way of medical reports before you get to that position.
How many seriously injured children will now be deprived of justice?
And how much money will be saved?
Do ministers hope to shave millions off the NHS budget by not having to meet claims where doctors have been negligent?
This is a truly shocking policy and the battle to oppose or reverse it will not be given up.