Limiting Access to Justice: Cost Reforms

by barlowrobbins on May 1, 2013

With the latest cuts to welfare state, and the infamous bedroom tax, Conservatives are still ten points behind the Labour party; not the most popular step ever made by a government in power. Legal aid, like any of the support that the coalition calls ‘something for nothing,’ was inevitably going to feel the sharp end of the welfare cuts.

Due to take place this month, Legal Aid Sentencing and Prevention of Offenders Act 2012 (LAPSO) is stepping up to the chopping block. The spirit of delivering as little welfare as possible, to the point where it may even be considered a breach of human rights, costs more to many people in the UK than just pounds and pennies.

Ever since its inception, a fair court of law was a sign of civilised society – one where access to justice was equal, regardless of what was in your pocketbook. Under these LAPSO reforms, those with little money could find it almost impossible to solicit legal representation.

Where Has This Stemmed From?

Blame has been laid at the feet of Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs). Judges and MPs are concerned that ‘no win, no fee’ claims and Legal Aid are encouraging a claims culture in the UK.

At the moment, losers of the case front the winner’s success fees, so those working with CFAs receive their compensation without having to pay costs. If they lose, After the Event (ATE) insurance can cover the heavy financial blow.

This new reform will stop the loser having to pay for the winner’s fees, and cap the legal charge of lawyers at 25% of the compensation. Potentially, one-quarter of damages can go entirely on solicitor’s fees. When you take into account that compensation is calculated based on what the victim needs or deserves, many people will be left short-changed.

Human rights representatives are concerned that this will mean the most vulnerable will be unable to access legal action or, if they do, their compensation won’t cover the damages to their life and livelihood. In short, those with the biggest bucks will potentially be able to threaten vulnerable victims with litigation that they can’t afford.

Is There any Truth in the LAPSO and CFA Complaints?

There’s concern that ‘no win, no fee’ solicitors are taking advantage of the system to cream a fat cat salary. But with the average CFA lawyer earning a reasonable £25,000 a year, there is hardly any truth behind the accusations.

Also, in family law alone, the current system means that only 10% of couples take their cases to court. For the most part, people settle their affairs during mediation, with the advice of lawyers. The UK is hardly dedicated to litigation. And in many respects, there are cases, such as of domestic violence, that are appropriate for court action. Contact solicitors in Surrey, if you feel your human rights are being breached by the reform.

With these LAPSO reforms in place, you’ll find the more affluent partner taking advantage of the more financially vulnerable party, because there’s very little support available. It’s a bleak future indeed, and certainly a step back to an antiquated approach to justice.

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