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Charity responds to proposals to axe Legal Aid for medical negligence

13/10/11: It is reported that the Government proposes to axe Legal Aid for victims of medical negligence. Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) is asking that the proposals which it has referred to as irrational, be reviewed.

The charity fears that vulnerable people injured by negligence within the NHS will no longer have access to a fair hearing.
However, staff for the Justice Minister have stated that the no win, no fee agreement which is also to be reformed will mean that victims can access the services of a solicitor.

AvMA maintain that government has not heeded the overwhelming evidence for retaining legal aid in cases of clinical negligence. It states that the legal aid costs of these cases, which is currently approximately £17m, represents a tiny fraction of the overall budget.

AvMA has issued a statement on their website stating that some deserving and needy victims will not have access to legal advice if the scheme is scrapped. They go on to say that axing the scheme will damage NHS work in relation to patient safety, increase overall costs and significantly increase NHS costs.

The current Legal Aid system in England was established shortly after the Second World War, and offers justice for everybody, regardless of their financial situation. However, due to spiralling costs, Ministers are of the opinion that the annual cost is too high; government intends to slim down the current bill by approximately £350m per annum in Wales and England by 2015.

A new bill detailing the intention to axe legal aid for cases of medical negligence has already been presented to parliament.

Currently only people on benefit and children qualify for legal aid.

No win, no fee agreements are also to be reformed by Ministers which will prevent lawyers from claiming any fees from the side that loses. Ken Clarke stated that they should rather receive a proportion of damages.

The government’s intention is that the reforms will make people who are set on bringing a spurious claim think again.
Critics are of the opinion that they will simply prevent justice being accessed for those claimants who aren’t financially well off.

AcMA state that changes to the no win, no fee agreements will mean that most clinical cases become uneconomic to the legal profession and solicitors won’t be able to accept as many cases in the future as they are currently able to. The organisation adds that serious injury claims will no longer be brought by vulnerable people.

The Justice Secretary suggested that any financial assistance in civil claims should be available only when liberty or life is at stake.