Populus Poll Shows Widespread Public Opposition To Government’s Civil Funding Reform Plans

Proposals A ‘Sledgehammer To Crack A Nut’, Says Top Law Firm

08.03.2011

A LEADING law firm has today urged ministers to step back from ‘extremely damaging’ plans to reform funding of civil cases and Legal Aid as new research shows overwhelming public opposition to some of the main planks of the Government’s proposals.

In a letter to Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly, Irwin Mitchell’s National Managing Partner John Pickering warned that the proposals currently being considered by the Government would cause ‘manifest injustice and denial of fair access to justice’ for consumers, with the most vulnerable and seriously injured victims likely to be hit the hardest.

His warning came as the national law firm released new figures showing that key proposals mooted by senior High Court judge Lord Justice Jackson and now being considered by Ministers in relation to personal injury cases, including plans to make successful claimants pay legal fees from their compensation and to reform the law around 'No Win No Fee' agreements, have little support amongst the public.

The research, carried out last week on behalf of Irwin Mitchell by respected pollsters Populus among more than 2,000 members of the public, shows that:

• Four in five (82%) people think that the current ‘no win, no fee’ system is fair

• Almost three-quarters (73%) of people think that, if a claimant’s personal injury claim is successful, the defendant’s side should pay their legal fees

• Almost half (47%) say that they would be less likely to bring a claim for compensation if they thought they may have to pay some of the legal costs.
 
Pickering said the research showed the public shared his concerns over the planned changes, which he forecast would have serious ‘unintended consequences’ for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“The fundamental changes now proposed to civil costs and legal aid are on such a different scale to anything we have previously experienced, representing a very serious threat to the ability of our clients to access justice and to our ability to continue serving their legal needs, that I wish to urge you to apply extreme caution before sweeping away the main cornerstones of the infrastructure that has served our citizens well for many decades,” he said in the letter.

And he also flagged grave concern over the Government’s proposals to change Legal Aid eligibility criteria at the same time, saying: “Both sets of proposals will have an extremely damaging effect on the ability of consumers to fund their civil claims, particularly personal injury and clinical negligence.

“The combined effect of the proposals will cause manifest injustice and denial of fair access to justice in clinical negligence cases.”

Pickering also cast doubt on the validity of figures used by Lord Justice Jackson in a recent speech to Legal Aid lawyers, in which he claimed that increasing general damages by 10% to cover the cost of claimants having to pay success fees would create ‘more winners than losers’.

Responding to the suggestion that 61% of claimants would be better off, Pickering flagged that the figure was skewed by the high volume of RTA claimants and said the most seriously injured and vulnerable clients would be hardest hit, adding that the figures were ‘dangerously misleading’ and ‘fundamentally flawed’.

He added: “The words sledgehammer and nut spring to mind in assessing the purpose of the proposals. In policy terms there will be a completely disproportionate impact if heavy legislative steps are taken in an attempt to solve a problem that is much greater in perception than reality.“