Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter has called for an early review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO).
‘LASPO pleased the government and, for most part, the insurance industry, but it did little for injured parties who lacked the means for seeking damages via [the civil courts],’ he told solicitors at the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers’ autumn conference.
‘The government has said it wants to wait five years before any review is undertaken. Others don’t share that view and there are several of these going on already into part one (legal aid), but there is less activity looking at how part two (litigation funding and costs) is working.
‘We opposed the changes in part two because we thought they went too far – they cherry-picked parts of Jackson and tipped the balance too far in favour of the defendant.
‘I would suggest that in the light of our original concerns, anomalies and litigation surrounding civil costs at the moment, that we will need an early review [of both parts].’
Slaughter said there had been a ‘systematic attack’ on claimants and their lawyers, which he described as a ‘one-sided game so far, with the government sitting on the side of the insurers’.
Litigation, he said, was perhaps perceived as a bad thing ‘because it’s a drag on the freedom particularly of big business or - in the case of judicial review - the state to operate without those tiresome things like litigants coming along and challenging decisions which they think are wrong’.
He also failed to understand why fraud had taken centre stage in personal injury litigation.
‘[Fraud] may be an issue. I just don’t want to see it so dominant an issue that, rather than tackle fraud as fraud, the approach has been simply to depress litigation overall so that you take out the good with the bad. That’s the danger.
‘We have to reverse the trend. We have to ensure meritorious claims, whether in road traffic or employer liability, are heard. Fraud has been used as a weapon to question claims generally.’
Meanwhile, Slaughter described the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism (SARAH) Bill - scheduled to be examined further by the House of Lords on 9 December - as ‘poorly drafted waffle’.
‘At this point in the political cycle, very little is happening, no effective law-making is going on… government has run out of things to do. [It’s referred to] as “zombie parliament” and therefore we end up with bills like SARAH which are irrelevant and frivolous,’ he said.
With the capacity of courts to operate effectively in doubt, employment tribunal claims ‘falling off a cliff’ due to rising fees, and solicitors under pressure at work, Slaughter warned that the ‘premium brand’ of legal services was at risk of being devalued.