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Wednesday, March 4, 1998 Published at 16:46 GMT


Legal aid axed for personal injury claims

Legal aid will be denied in most future claims for personal injury, under plans announced on Wednesday by the Lord Chancellor.

Lord Irvine says legal aid fails too many (12")
Under the new proposals, most claimants in all areas of civil law, who cannot afford to bring cases themselves, must make a "no-win, no fee" arrangement with lawyers.

The conditional fee work means solicitors get nothing if they lose a case, but allows them to charge higher fees if they win.

Lord Irvine's most controversial proposals, to remove legal aid from a much wider range of civil claims, have been postponed.

Instead, medical negligence claims will continue to be eligible for legal aid, at least for the next two or three years.

Legal aid 'unacceptably high'

Lord Irvine unveiled his plans in a consultation paper entitled "Access to Justice with Conditional Fees".

[ image: Lord Irvine: Legal aid has tripled to £671m]
Lord Irvine: Legal aid has tripled to £671m
The paper said that civil and family legal aid had been rising at an "unacceptable rate", tripling over seven years to £671m, whilst the number of people helped by the scheme had fallen.

"We are spending more and more public money, helping fewer and fewer people," Lord Irvine said, with the Government, therefore, needing to find "radical and innovative" solutions.

In his plans, Lord Irving proposes "removing ... most money and damages claims from legal aid to allow the existing system to focus on priority areas".

Ben Smolden could not have claimed for a broken neck in a rugby match without aid (14")
Personal injury cases which do not involve claims of medical negligence will be among the first to lose the right to legal aid.

But some cases with a public interest may still get taxpayer's support.

"The Government is satisfied that the condition does exist to allow non-medical negligence personal injury claims to be financed through conditional fee arrangements" he said.

Conditional fees were made optional for personal injury cases in 1995, and according to the government have worked well, with more than 34,000 cases being brought.

Claimants have to take out insurance against the costs of losing the case, costing up to £155.

They may also have to pay professional fees for experts and investigators.

More than 60% of all claims for cash will cease to qualify for legal aid in the first wave of reforms.

The areas which will have to be financed by conditional fees include:

  • Disputes over wills.
  • The administration of trusts.
  • Some areas of Company and partnership law.
  • Land Tribunal matters.
  • Disputes over property boundaries.
  • Any cases pursued in the course of a business.

Strong criticism

The Law Society, a national body representing solicitors, has strongly criticised the plans to replace legal aid.

Philip Sycamore, President of the Law Society, says the reforms are no substitute for legal aid (10")
A spokesman said: "We welcome the extension of conditional fees, which have been working well, but they were never supposed to be a substitute for legal aid."

"There are many people who will fall through the net. Not all personal injury cases are straightforward, and lawyers may be reluctant to take on complex ones, or where the damages claimed are very high and the cases will probably be fought all the way."

The move has also attracted criticism from the Bar Council, who have criticised the plans to remove legal aid for personal injury cases as "illogical."

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Relevant Stories

04 Mar 98†|†UK
Injured rugby player backs legal aid

22 Jan 98†|†UK
Barristers oppose legal aid reform

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