I was interested to read the article by Jon Robins regarding a contingency legal aid fund (CLAF). Robins quoted what former shadow justice minister Henry Bellingham said about the idea of a CLAF. I was in fact the person who put the idea to Bellingham - and the exact words quoted in the article, regarding it being ‘imaginative and radical’, were words that Henry quoted to me in one of his early letters.
I met him at the House of Commons and we worked together for six months on the idea, and he told me that he would make it a priority, ‘electorate permitting’. Of course David Cameron then saw fit to send him off to the Foreign Office.
The figures that we produced were based on every personal injury claim being funded by legal aid, with means testing, and those who could afford to pay would pay a monthly contribution which would finance the fund from day one. This brought in loss-of-earnings claims which are the main part of damages, as it is pointless giving legal aid to those who are not working and only have damages for injuries which do not include loss of earnings.
Solicitors would be paid at legal aid rates, thus reducing costs, they are paid on losing cases, which they maintain are 50%. So effectively they receive double the rate, but it saves a fortune for the insurance companies, NHS etc on inter partes rates. Roger Smith expressed concerns at claimants losing 25% of their damages.
This does not in fact happen, as in the US where the solicitor receives the percentage, the courts just increase the damages to cover it and claimants receive 100% of their claim. We took out any percentage being charged for future care, so that people with brain damage for example would lose nothing on awards for care.
In fact, all the figures were carefully calculated, and with the Legal Services Commission taking a percentage of damages, it not only financed the whole legal aid fund but made about £2bn profit each year!
I think someone should take the time to contact Bellingham, obtain his file and look at the whole scheme and the figures. We spent a lot of time together going through this – and it does actually work.
For the government to dismiss the idea out of hand, when it not only funds legal aid but makes huge profits, is scandalous. The problem with this government is that when they have someone sensible like Bellingham in a job, they push him off somewhere else and appoint someone who has no idea. Or was this the fault of a coalition and done to appease the Lib Dems?
Roy Pain, costs lawyer, Chesham, Bucks