You may have seen news coverage of the headline changes in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to do with sentencing and minimum jail terms for people found guilty of committing certain crimes. Part two of this bill looks into civil litigation and Conditional Fee Arrangements (CFA) known more commonly as ‘No Win No Fee’.
Although the majority of people with spinal cord injury do not receive large compensation packages, Aspire is concerned about the effect that these changes will have on people who wish to carry out a compensation claim in the future. Where in the past, someone may have fought for compensation and won, they may now not take on the risk because of high costs, or be denied access to reputable lawyers as taking on high risk complex cases may not be financially viable for them.
Under these reforms, success fees paid to lawyers are to be capped at 25% of the compensation awarded and paid out of the successful claimant’s compensation. At the moment, this can be paid by the losing party. Paying lawyer fees out of success fees will have an adverse impact on a disabled person’s income.
The Jackson Review, which first proposed these reforms, claimed that the changes “will in the majority of cases leave claimants no worse off”. This implicitly recognises that some will be worse off and unfortunately, from research undertaken, this would be those with serious or catastrophic injuries.
One of the reasons cited by the Government to introduce these reforms is to end the ‘compensation culture’. However, Aspire believes that in trying to address this, it may be that an unintended consequence has been overlooked, which could lead to disabled people with credible claims being:
Denied access to reputable law firms and lawyers.
Put off making a claim due to high costs and risks involved if the case is unsuccessful.
Being financially worse off compared to the current system if successful in the outcome of a claim.
There should be a thorough impact assessment on how these reforms will affect disabled people. Conditional Fee Arrangements should be permitted for cases where damages incurred by an individual are medically proven to have a permanent lifetime impact on a person. Aspire has written to MPs and the Justice Department to highlight our concerns about these reforms.