Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2011

The Government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill received what was described by the Speaker as a “well-subscribed” second reading on 29th June 2011. It passed by a margin of 295 votes in favour to 212 against and will now move on to be considered by a House of Commons Public Bill Committee. The Committee will receive written submissions until Thursday 13th October 2011.

The Bill would drastically reduce the availability for Legal Aid, including for clinical negligence cases, in what the Law Society has described as the: “single biggest attack on state-funded legal advice for the poor and vulnerable since the legal aid system was introduced.”

The Bill seeks to implement a number of the reforms proposed by Lord Justice Jackson’s report, including the abolition of the recovery of success fees inter partes as well as ATE insurance premiums, save in certain clinical negligence cases. The availability of damages based agreements will also be extended although it is difficult to see how these will be viable in all but very substantial cases.

No doubt the debates will continue to rage.

In the Parliamentary debate, Kenneth Clarke stated that “swift, cost-effective access to justice” was a fundamental responsibility of the state to its citizens.

Just how that will be achieved by the proposed measures remains to be seen. The Bar Council and many others have expressed grave doubts.

Certainly this does not seem to tally with the opinion of Lord Neuberger MR in Sibthorpe & Anor –v- London Borough of Southwark [2011] EWCA Civ 25. “There is also much to be said for a properly funded legal profession, which has no need to have recourse to conditional fees or contingency fees and the like.”

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