Legal aid

Legal aid

Legal aid is a thing of the past in most personal injury cases.

The legal aid system was set up for the right reasons, to allow those who could not afford a solicitor, to use one. If the case was unsuccessful your own solicitor would receive some payment from the legal aid fund, your expenses/disbursements would be paid and you would have no bill to pay. Depending on your financial circumstances you may have paid a contribution towards your legal aid, but the contribution was nothing like the full legal bill.

If you were receiving legal aid and your case failed, the legal aid fund would not pay the legal bill of the successful defendant. That factor gave legally aided clients a distinct advantage in negotiations.

If a legally aided case succeeded your solicitor was expected to recover your legal costs from the other side, and reimburse the legal aid fund. Legal aid was actually a repayable loan to allow you to pursue your case.

It became expensive and the Government changed the rules. In the personal injury field, conditional fee arrangements (or no win no fee as it is called) became possible. The idea was to give solicitors  an incentive to take on less than straightforward cases by allowing a success fee if the case won. At first, success fees were paid by the client and later by the defendant. The payment of success fees by the defendant has led to complaints about the increasing cost of personal injury litigation. It is likely that recovering success fees from defendants will be brought to an end, or at least limited.

As legal aid was phased out for personal injury cases, an insurance product was developed to protect the claimant from having to pay the defendants costs if the defendant was successful. The insurance product was called after the event insurance. The premium for after the event insurance could be recovered from the other side if your personal injury case succeeded, but this too is likely to change.

The term “access to justice” was developed by the Government, as it took legal aid away from personal injury cases. Legal aid was removed but “access to justice” was to be allowed through the use of conditional fee agreements and after the event insurance.

Very soon, if the reformers have their way, there will be access to justice, but at a price. I do not complain about the removal of legal aid in personal injury cases, but reforms should not make the claimant’s position worse and limit access to justice.

Author: Mark Thompson

Personal injury and accident specialist solicitor

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