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Friday, 11 November 2016

Are we seeing the demise of our civil courts?

I have written before about the problems suffered by all parties to litigation following the drastic increases in court fees in 2015 –

It certainly appears that the quality of the service offered by our courts has declined in direct proportion to the increase in fees. Despite the availability of remission of fees in some cases there is no doubt that this is having a major impact. In 2013 the fee for starting an action for damages of £200k was £1250.00. This is now £10,000.00.

Lawyers who pursue actions for ordinary citizens of average means, usually pay the fees on behalf of their clients. Increases of this magnitude seriously impact the commercial viability of this service.

The effect of all of this is that it is that victims of accidents and medical negligence will find it harder and harder to pursue their disputes through the courts. Those suffering the most severe injuries are the worst affected.

It is not surprising therefore that lawyers for claimants and defendants are actively considering alternatives. Litigation Futures reported yesterday on an initiative from Liverpool based QC, Bill Braithwaite –

Braithwaite advocates the use of ‘neutral facilitators’ to resolve disputes in major personal injury cases. He suggests that such facilitator can be given such powers as are agreed by the parties – from mediation to full decision making on all issues. This is an interesting idea but one which would require much collaboration on both sides.

This follows on from last year’s launch of the Personal Injury arbitration service –

In medical negligence cases there are proposals for a compensation scheme for victims of birth injuries –

Victims are never looking for litigation. They are looking for answers, for resolution and for appropriate levels of damages.

I suspect that there will be more such initiatives and referring disputes to the court will eventually become exceptional.

There are however some concerns. Will we ever see the levels of co-operation required to make them work? Only last month lawyers who help victims of medical negligence were called ‘vultures’ and ‘greedy ambulance chasers’. Lawyers who help victims of accidents are regularly accused of feeding a mythical ‘compensation culture’.  I think much bridge building will be needed if these alternatives are to succeed.

On the other hand, resorting to our civil courts will become increasingly prohibitive. So some alternative will be the only way of securing justice for those who cannot afford to pay the eye watering fees.

Will our civil courts then become a resource available only to the wealthy?

1 comment:

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