It’s not easy to argue against fixed fees for claims against the NHS.
We’re all paying for the supposed excesses of lawyers charging way more than the damages they’re fighting for. The figures involved are eye-watering and it goes without saying that we all benefit when legal costs are reduced.
There is considerable merit in arguments pushed forward by claimant lawyers who say we need to change defendant behaviour and concentrate on improving standards of care. Then, and only then, can we really address the costs racked up by legal claims, rather than attack the very people trying to highlight and reduce malpractice.
In the week where the consultation on fixed costs has ended, an unlikely ally for claimant lawyers has emerged: the Daily Telegraph.
The paper reported yesterday that victims of the rogue surgeon Ian Paterson could be denied justice by what it called a ‘new scheme to limit claims’.
The story quotes a group of ten charities which warn that vulnerable people would be harmed by the plans because they will not be able to find solicitors to represent them. Even if they did, lawyers will have to charge to cover the excess costs inevitably incurred if defendants dig their heels in.
Let’s be quite clear: this kind of reporting from a conservative newspaper should be applauded. The Telegraph may have been living under a rock since the consultation was launched back in January, but this at last brings some balance to what is a nuanced debate.
What is sad is that it takes a case of the magnitude and public awareness for these arguments to be aired.
For all of Paterson’s victims, and there are reputed to be hundreds, there are many more out there who also face missing out on justice due to prescriptive and ill-judged fixed costs.
Victims whose case is worth less than £25,000, particularly elderly victims, will miss out on what they are due because of these rules. People injured through no fault of their own, who placed their trust in the very organisation that was supposed to restore them to health.
Throughout this debate it is the victims who have been forgotten and overlooked: fixed fees may bring down spending, but at what cost to them?
The Paterson victims have a right to justice, but so do many others. It’s just a shame it takes such a high-profile case for people to wake up to the potential injustice being pushed through with barely a murmur of dissent.