Clinical negligence lawyers will be fully aware that the Legal Aid Bill proposes to
reverse the position under the Access to Justice Act 1999, whereby civil legal aid is available for any matter not specifically excluded. The Bill takes some types of case out of scope for legal aid funding and provides that cases would not be eligible for funding unless of a type specified in the Bill. It suffices to say that clinical negligence work is not specified in the Bill.
As a trade off the Bill states that ATE premiums in conditional fee cases will be recoverable in clinical negligence cases (although not in other areas). Such a solution strikes many as being unsatisfactory.
In an address to Cambridge Law faculty last week Lord Justice Jackson called for MP’s not to scrap legal aid, particularly in clinical negligence cases. Despite such calls (along with evidence from a number of not-for-profit organisations) the Committee ploughed on and proceeded to dismiss all of the suggested amendments.
‘Solicitors Journal’ reported extracts of Lord Justice Jackson’s address to the Cambridge Law Faculty . Jackson LJ said: “The extent of public funding which can be devoted to legal aid is of course a matter for parliament, not for the judiciary, to decide.
“Nevertheless, in order to dispel the confusion which has arisen, let me make it plain that the cutbacks in legal aid are contrary to the recommendations in my report.”
Jackson said he made no recommendation in his final report for the expansion or restoration of legal aid.
“I do, however, stress the vital necessity of making no further cutbacks in legal aid availability or eligibility. The legal aid system plays a crucial role in promoting access to justice at proportionate costs in key areas.
“Since, in respect of a vast swathe of litigation, the costs of both sides are ultimately borne by the public, the maintenance of legal aid at no less than the present levels makes sound economic sense and is in the public interest.”
The bill will reach its third reading in the House of Commons at the end of October. Watch this space...