Campaigners for accident victims have launched a petition to stop a levy being taken from successful claims funded through legal aid.
The Ministry of Justice intends to impose the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme (SLAS) from April 2013, to allow for up to 25% of damages awards to be deducted from victims of clinical negligence. Legal aid will be available only to those who have been injured during pregnancy, labour or the first eight weeks of life – irrespective of the strength of the case or the income of the people making the claim.
The charity Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) says the SLAS amounts to a ‘raid’ on funds earmarked for years of potential care for victims of clinical negligence.
Chief executive Peter Walsh said: ‘In effect it is an extra tax on the most vulnerable and deserving victims in society and would make it unrealistic to take cases forward on legal aid, making a mockery of the so-called concession made to leave these cases 'in scope' for legal aid. In other words it is as good as scrapping legal aid for all clinical negligence cases through the back door.’
The MoJ says the scheme will put money back into funding other legal aid cases and would also deliver savings from clients who choose not to take up legal aid and whose cases would be unsuccessful.
AvMA is also encouraging potential claimants who will rely on conditional fee agreements to mount their case to act before rule changes are enacted next April. In advice posted on its website, AvMA says clients with a claim against a hospital trust of other healthcare provider should act ‘as soon as possible’.
It adds: ‘By instructing a solicitor and establishing the method of funding before April 2013, you may be saving yourself a significant deduction from damages if your case is successful.’
The NHS Litigation Authority told the Gazette earlier this year it is expecting an increase in opened claims between now and April 2013.
Meanwhile, the Association of Personal Injury Solicitors (APIL) has rejected the medical insurance industry’s assertion that claims have gone up as a result of no win, no fee agreements.
In a letter to the Gazette, APIL chief executive Deborah Evans said there was ‘no evidence’ to back up the claims made by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) last week.
‘The MDU’s own figures, which show a 56% increase in disciplinary cases and an 18% increase in General Medical Council investigations, surely also represent a serious issue for the medical profession in relation to standards. So it is difficult to see why the MDU has ruled out the possibility of diminishing standards as a potential explanation for the increase in claims.’
The AvMA’s petition is at GoPetition.