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Legal Aid Bill before the House of Lords

23/11/11: Some weeks ago it was reported that legal aid was to be abolished. The bill was discussed in the House of Lords on November 22nd 2011. A total of 54 peers spoke on the contents and implications of The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

Among the speakers, three peers voiced critical concerns relating to issues of injury and accident insurance and clinical negligence.

Extracts from the three addressing peers are below:
“At present, over 570,000 people present claims for whiplash. That is up 32 per cent in the past three years. That is the equivalent of one person every minute of every hour of every day. The number of such claims notified increased by 72 per cent between 2002 and 2010 against a background of a reduction of 16 per cent in the number of car accidents notified to the police in the past three years. Criticisms have been voiced of Part 2 and Sir Rupert Jackson’s work. Referring for a moment to the transport committee in another place, when dealing with referral fees, it made it quite clear that the system had gone wrong because substantial fees were now being paid to “insurance firms, vehicle repairers, rescue truck drivers, credit hire firms, claims and accident management firms, law firms and medical experts”. How on earth can anybody be complacent about a system that has brought that about?” Lord Hunt of Wirral

“Taking clinical negligence out of the scope of legal aid will prevent vast numbers of people ever having their case properly investigated, thereby denying the NHS vital lessons for improving patient safety. This is due to the very high costs encountered by medical experts. If there is no legal aid, solicitors will be able to cherry pick the more clear-cut cases. Because the vast majority of clinical negligence victims are harmed at the hands of a state body – the NHS – there is a strong moral argument that the state should ensure that these people have access to justice.” Viscount SimonThe reality for a parent who has given birth to a child who has suffered significant injuries as a consequence of medical negligence is very grim… They must learn to come to terms with the consequences of the alleged negligence in terms of their baby’s ability to function… They must learn to do that which doctors and nurses normally do, to preserve the life and function that their children have. Often, they will be constantly exhausted and frightened…. In the midst of all this, and of all the consequential visits to doctors, occupational therapists and physiotherapists, as well as to those who provide wheelchairs and other aids and adaptations for those with disability, they must contemplate the need to commence legal proceedings to seek compensation, which will enable them to secure proper care for their children in the future… In the midst of all the grief, the confusion, the fear and the exhaustion, they will need to know how long they have to initiate legal proceedings… They will have to contemplate the costs of expert medical and other technical evidence to support and explain the situation to them. They will need the capacity to keep their claims going through years of litigation-and all this without legal support. Is this possible? All the while, in many negligence cases the costs of the defendant are borne by the public purse. We fund the defendant, but we will refuse to fund the complainant.” Baroness O’Loan

The debate continues.