Trevor firstly can you explain the changes that are coming up this April?
April 2013 signals a sea change for the legal sector when Lord Justice Jackson’s reforms come into force in the LASPO Act. The unprecedented changes to the legal system will remove access to Legal Aid, except in a very limited number of cases, and shift a large burden of costs from the losing defendants in part to the successful claimant.
Why have these changes come about?
In my view, whilst the changes are said to be as a result of Lord Justice Jackson’s consultation process, they have a major political undercurrent; the changes are being implemented in a bid to both save the Government millions of pounds in relation to claims against public bodies such as the NHS, MOD, MOJ and local authorities, and to deter the myth that is being hailed as an increasing ‘compensation culture’ in the UK.
What is the general view amongst legal practitioners?
The reforms are widely unpopular amongst claimant practitioners and the public is still largely unaware of how this will impact upon them. I believe there will be limits on access to justice for a large part of the innocently injured community who do not know what is going to hit them when their unfortunate injuries are incurred. In future, this only serves to punish the innocent injured party further during a time when they are most vulnerable and in need of the legal system to protect their rights. Practitioners will be forced to change their business models, cherry pick the more straight-forward cases and hope their bankers stick with them.
How will these changes affect claimants?
The changes will mean that an individual injured either through clinical or other negligence or breach of statutory duty, may have slimmer chances of finding a lawyer willing to take their case on and run it properly. Some of the legal fees incurred may have to come out of the settlement received rather than being covered by the guilty defendant which is the current system so injured individuals’ compensation may be significantly reduced.
Is there an increasing compensation culture in the UK in your view?
There has been much ‘spinning’ about the compensation culture. It has been found on independent analysis not to exist. However, it’s always a good runner for politicians. There are, as in all walks of life, abuses of the system and personal injury work is no exception. The problem is the rhetoric has got carried away and the genuine issues have been pushed under the carpet on the wave of public apathy and political expediency.
The truth is that the vast majority of practitioners dealing with complex cases have balanced the recovery of success fees against the losses and non-recovery at all on cases they have investigated. They have done so with the intention of providing the public as a whole access to justice.
Will the changes impact certain types of cases more than others?
Clinical and complex negligence cases will be hit the hardest. These types of claims are both complex and expensive to investigate. Serious claims such as severe brain injury for example, can take years to conclude with clients requiring significant compensation simply to cover the cost of essential adaptations and to pay for vital, often round the clock care. The changes will make the pursuit of these cases greatly more problematic from a funding and risk perspective hence the inevitable prospect of adverse selection.
What advice would you give to firms?
Those affected will certainly have to build in more efficiency into their working practices and business models. For those who continue with this line of work it will indeed be a brave new world.