Listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 5 March, I was struck by how poorly thought out the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (‘LASPO’) appears to be.
It will have devastating consequences for access to justice.
The Justice Secretary advocates reforms detailed in the Bill. This is currently being considered in the House of Lords and is likely to be made into an Act in April 2012, before implementation a year later.
If pushed through, the reforms will make it impossible for many claims against the police to be pursued. This is because the Bill removes the valuable ‘safety net’ of legal aid for previously eligible claimants in cases where allegations of deliberate or dishonest conduct do not apply.
To make matters worse, the current system of conditional fee (‘no win no fee’) agreements backed with after the event insurance (which protects against the risks of paying own disbursements and opponent’s fees in the event of failure) will be reformed to deny the claimant the right to claim a ‘success fee’ from their opponent if they win together with the cost of their insurance policy. These two things have allowed actions against the police solicitors like me to help my clients obtain justice and recover 100% of their damages after police wrongdoing.
Under the changes, these costs will come out of the claimant’s damages even if they are successful. As a result many cases will not be pursued as the financial benefit to the claimant if they win will be outweighed by the potential costs they will have to pay personally if they lose.
Ken Clarke insists that ‘We’re taking legal aid away from lawyers.’ By removing legal aid and reforming litigation funding from civil litigation which includes police compensation claims, police misconduct will go unpunished, lessons will not be learned, and access to justice will be denied. For Mr. Clarke, a barrister and QC, that is a shameful legacy.