The latest Government plans to reform legal aid and civil litigation funding will severely threaten access to justice.
The proposed reforms will cut state help to all but the very poorest – it is estimated that 550,000 cases a year, including 265,000 family cases will no longer be eligible for legal aid, and fees in civil and family cases will be cut by 10% across the board. Legal Aid firms as a whole stand to earn between £144 million and £154 million less annually.
The MOJ confirmed that price competitive tendering for criminal legal aid will be introduced in 2011/12, and later for civil and family legal aid. How many firms who undertake legal aid work will thus be left after these swinging cuts?
Simultaneously, the MOJ launched a consultation on how it proposes to implement Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals for reforming the funding of civil litigation. Under the proposals, contingency fees are to be introduced but capped at 25 percent, with damages increasing by 10 percent. At the same time, CON DEMS Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly announced that the recoverability of success fees and after-the-event insurance premiums from the losing party will be scrapped. However, we will have to await the Legal Services Board review of referral fees before we discover if Jackson’s recommendation to abolish the fees in personal injury cases will be adopted.
It is suggested that there will be greater emphasis on the before-the-event market – with litigants being encouraged to self insure in advance. Qualified costs shifting, whereby losing claimants are only liable to pay their own legal costs, is also likely to be introduced.
AND ANOTHER REVIEW
It is not only reviews in funding that are vogue this month. The Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and the Institute of Legal Executives announced a joint review of legal training and education. I hope that the review will address the current oversupply of LPC graduates and the backlog of students who are still searching for training contracts.
CHRISTMAS HAS COME EARLY
I was pleased to note that The Law Society has agreed to provide some support to a firm who has decided to sue Santander and Lloyds Banking Group after being removed from their conveyancing panels. As I said in my last letter, to allow a bank that remains propped up by the tax payer to wield such a discriminatory policy is not, in my view, in the interests of the consumer.
Membership of our Society has hitherto been open to solicitors practising in the Cardiff and District area – however, at our meeting in January 2011 we will be considering whether to widen our membership. We already know that Members of the Bar have joined Birmingham Law Society – is there a reason why we should not welcome Legal Executives, Paralegals or indeed Members of the Bar into our Society. I would welcome your views on this. Please email your comments to me at the email address which appears at the end of this letter.
Finally, at this festive time, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a peaceful Christmas and a successful and prosperous 2011.
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Michael Walters - Administrator
Cardiff & District Law Society
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Steve Roberts - Membership Secretary
Cardiff & District Law Society
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