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Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Fixed Fees in Medical Cases and conflict at the Law Society

I talked recently about Government plans to limit the fees recoverable by those who represent victims of Medical Negligence –

This is an issue which has been simmering for a while. 

Back in 2014 the Telegraph wrote an overtly political article which was titled – Ambulance Chasers push NHS Costs Bill to £200m.

The article blamed Claimant lawyers, alleging that they were adding to the beleaguered NHS bill. In particular they quoted the, then, CEO of the NHS Litigation Authority, Catherine Dixon – 

“They [some lawyers] are trying to maximise their profit. It seems to me that it is out of kilter with the level of damages they are seeking to recover from their clients and defence costs. I don’t think that charging significantly higher costs is appropriate, particularly against a body like the NHS which is looking after the health of the nation.”

She alleged that Law Firms frontloaded the costs by conducting ‘extensive investigations’. Anyone who has ever done one of these cases knows that you have to investigate any case before you submit a claim because advice from a medical expert is essential. The Telegraph stated that NHSLA had provided them with a list of firms whose costs had been reduced following assessment by the court.

In the light of recent rhetoric from the DOH Ms Dixon’s words are particularly alarming. This is because she is now the CEO of the Law Society. In this role she will inevitably be called upon to argue the case for lawyers to be paid fairly for the work done. This has to put her in a conflicted position. She has not merely argued the case for cutting back on the costs of those fighting for victims. She has associated herself with an undisguised political agenda which included publishing the names of particular law firms. These are firms which have done nothing wrong other than do their best for their clients within a legal costs system created by ministers.

The President of the Law Society has inevitably had to come to her defence saying that she was fully committed to ensuring that claimant lawyers were fairly rewarded. She herself has written in the Law Society’s Gazette calling for investment in NHS care as the effective way to reduce the legal bill. Some of us have been saying that for years.

The problem is she that is on record as saying what she thinks constitutes ‘fair reward’. How can she conduct robust negotiations on behalf of Law Society members? Will she openly repudiate what she said in the Telegraph Article and the tactics used by the organisation which she led.

Negotiations inevitably involve concessions. I suspect that fixed fees at some level will be introduced in medical negligence cases.

How can the Society’s CEO conduct realistic negotiations without constant reminders of what she has previously said and done.

It is a worry.

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