One of my regular themes has been the relentless attacks by the present Government on Access to Justice for Ordinary people. Their approach seems to swing between indifference and outright hostility in favour of its friends in the insurance industry –
So we have seen the removal of Civil Legal Aid for almost all clients. Interestingly this was said to be needed to save the treasury £350m when the same politicians have squandered £100m on a Police Commissioner election that nobody wanted. We have also seen attacks on lawyers who try to promote access to justice by running cases on no win no fee agreements. Those lawyers are vilified by the media and ministers for promoting a ‘compensation culture’ which most commentators accept, is a myth.
But this week has seen one of the most devastating attacks of all. This is the Ministry of Justice's announcement yesterday of a ‘consultation’ to slash huge amounts off the amounts which lawyers can be paid for pursuing cases for victims of motor accidents, accidents at work and most other personal injury claims. It says that it is a consultation but it requires responses by 4th January 2013. So once we knock Christmas out of the equation it is just we few weeks for changes which will have massive consequences for victims. So it seems that the decision is made –
In many cases this will see a reduction of up to 60%.
The problem we have is that any lawyers who complain will be accused of acting out of self interest to maintain their incomes. But this goes far beyond that. Some lawyers will find other work to do. Others will go out of business. But why should the most vulnerable have to suffer. The fixed fees are rightly described by the Law Society as ‘woefully inadequate’. This will have a double effect. Many firms will decide that they can no longer do this work and stay in business. So they will do other work. All will decide that to do the work at such derisory rates will mean a reduction in quality. If work has to be done on the cheap then that is bound to be the result. On the other hand insurers will ensure that they have the best that money can buy.
One ironic outcome predicted by Liverpool Solicitor Mike Sexton is that we could see a no fault compensation outcome. Insurers will have a huge incentive to settle claims following first notification of a claim. They can pay out with no questions asked and have to pay legal fees of a few hundred pounds. So the economic result could override any concerns about the merits of a claim. Is this outcome really good for society?
What is certain is that this will make it massively more difficult for ordinary people to pursue justice. Insurers will save millions in the process. We are always being told that their agenda is to reduce insurance premiums for motorists. But I have never heard any give a guarantee that any savings will result in a rebate. I doubt if any motorist really expects that to happen.