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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Common Law - Dead End Street?

I have been a Solicitor since April Fools Day 1980! To be honest I was never convinced that this was the career for me. I still wonder sometimes.

It all became a bit clearer when I started my first proper job at the Vauxhall Law Centre in Liverpool. This involved working mainly for tenants in, what was, then, one of the most deprived areas in Europe. I quickly became converted to the cause of Access to Justice - I genuinely wanted to fight for justice for ordinary people who were having to battle against powerful government bodies or wealthy companies including insurers. That has kept me going ever since.

My first ever venture into the Court of Appeal and the Law Reports was Rimmer v Liverpool City Council [1983] EWCA Civ 11.

It wasn’t a world changing case but was a modest step forward in the rights of tenants injured due to defective premises. Legal aid was refused four times before the successful High Court Trial. A very courageous Management Committee backed the case. There were a few sleepless nights during the trial. Thankfully we got Legal Aid for the Appeal!

I mention that case because this is just a modest example of how our common law has developed. Cases like this have all been small but significant pieces of the jig saw. Developing case law has been particularly effective in progressing the rights of the vulnerable and the weak; achieved partly as a result of the combination of committed lawyers and properly funded Access to Justice.

I genuinely fear that recent ‘reforms’ will see this grind to a halt. Who will bring these cutting edge cases?

Cases like Mr. Rimmer’s have been out of scope for years. But who would have the courage to run his case on a CFA now – especially if they will only be paid under the fixed fee regime?

So who take up the fight for those who are weak? Where would we be if Mrs. Donohue’s unfortunate encounter with a snail had been subject to a CFA risk assessment? How will our proud common law continue to develop if the lawyers are forced to cherry pick those cases that will keep them in business? Are we in fact seeing the advance of common law stopped in its tracks by ‘value for money’ and ‘proportionality’?

That is a real worry for us all.

Are we in fact seeing the end of fighting for justice as a career choice at all? 

This is why the fight to save UK justice has to go on. It is more than just a commodity.

As Martin Luther King once said - ‘The moral arm of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.’ 

I suggest that all of us, including hard working tax-payers, would agree with that.


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  2. Keep on writing this type of great stuff.


  3. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

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