On Monday, Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, proposed to slash £350 million from the legal aid budget and put an end to the abuse of the no win, no fee system.
Financial assistance from the state will only be available in cases where life or freedom is at stake. People suing the NHS, prisoners, would be migrants and those filing personal injury claims will all find the legal aid door firmly closed.
The legal costs in no win, no fee civil cases will be deducted from the compensation awarded to the victim regardless of whether the case involves medical negligence or libel. This will stop personal injury solicitors filing a separate claim against the defendant.
Legal aid is now a £2 billion a year industry in the UK, a far cry from its intended purpose which was to provide the poor people of Britain with access to justice. Now, immigrants appealing against a visa decision and prisoners complaining that their bed is too hard, can claim financial assistance to make a claim. There are also ambulance chasing lawyers lodging thousands of personal injury compensation claims knowing that if they win, they can claim mega bucks from the defendant.
The UK has ended up with a public sector paralysed by fears over health and safety regulations, as the officials try to avoid crippling lawsuits.
There’s no doubting the fact that reform of the system is essential, but what’s going to happen to people who have a genuine claim and no means of financing it themselves. Will they find it harder to get justice when solicitors discover they can no longer line their pockets from personal injury cases?
The Law Society seems to think so. In a seemingly bizarre move, the solicitors’ professional body has asked for an alcohol tax to cover legal aid costs. This would mean that if you buy a drink in a pub or purchase a bottle of wine in Tesco you would be contributing to solicitors’ earnings. That idea may not go down to well with the majority of the general public!