Thursday, 14 April 2011

Our worst fears confirmed?

As mentioned in previous posts here, ARAG have not hidden their opposition to Jackson’s proposed civil litigation reforms. In fact we have actively campaigned against them due mainly to our belief that they will reduce access to justice for the most vulnerable in our society.

It was then with some trepidation that ARAG’s managers sat to watch Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke announce to the House of Commons on the 29th March that he planned to implement the proposals in full.

I say with trepidation as it was only six weeks previously that ARAG along with 800 other interested parties submitted responses to the consultation paper Proposals for reform of civil litigation funding and costs in England and Wales. The first question for me would be how the Ministry of Justice could read and properly digest over 800 responses in 6 weeks, and ignore the overwhelming negative reponses to the Jackson Report.

  • 71% disagreed that a success fees should no longer be recoverable
  • 69% disagreed that ATE insurance premiums should no longer be recoverable from the losing party across all categories of civil litigation
  • 64% disagreed that Qualified One-way Cost Shifting (QOCS) should be introduced

The reforms that Clarke wants to introduce include:

  • removal of recoverability for lawyer’s success fees and after the event insurance premiums
  • increasing general damages by 10%
  • capping success fees at 25%
  • one-way cost shifting

So is this our worst fears confirmed? Putting aside the impact on the Legal Expenses market, claimants will need to contemplate funding their disbursements which for the vast majority of society is virtually impossible, still face the prospects of paying costs if they fall to beat a Part 36 Offer and should they be successful in their action, damages will be reduced following the possible reduction of a success fee and ATE premium.

All in all it was a bad day for claimants. It is clear the government merely paid ‘lip service’ to the consultation process, not only ignoring the overall majority who responded, but concluded by being intent on wanting to implement a report that will damage the very cornerstone of access to justice.

ARAG will continue to campaign against the reforms both independently and via the Consumer Justice Alliance (CJA), Legal Expenses Insurance Group (LEIG) and Access to Justice Group (AJAG). We urge all those who really care about access to justice to contact their MP to voice their concerns and to also join the CJA and/or AJAG.

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