I admit to a certain amount of grim amusement at the howls of protest from the profession at the proposals in respect of legal aid and conditional free agreements (I have clients who fund their cases under both regimes).
A cynic may wonder how much of the outrage is driven by a fear of reduced revenue and how much by a genuine fear that people will not be able to access legal advice when they need it? That said, one is forced to wonder how some of the proposals were ever made. The suggestion for instance that there will be a growth in before-the-event insurance so that everyone will have it is completely unrealistic. Half of my clients have no bank account and no contents insurance. Where are they going to get BTE from and how are they supposed to afford it?
I am also distinctly unimpressed by the argument for changing the CFA regime, which seems to be predicated on outrageous success fees charged by a small number of city firms, which charge a basic rate of £500 an hour anyway.
There are few, even within the profession, who would argue that fees at that level are justified. However, just because there are a few firms that (entirely legally) milk the system does not mean the whole regime is wrong. If there are cases where the success fee is not commensurate with the risk, is this not something the courts can deal with in detailed assessment?
Taken in isolation, the proposal is hard to comprehend, but when it is viewed against the concurrent proposal to include a whole new range of claims within schedule 2 to the Access to Justice Act, making CFAs less attractive makes no sense at all. Essentially, if you want to sue your solicitor for professional negligence you do not get legal aid because it is now excluded. Unless the claim is a ‘slam dunk’ (they rarely are) no-one will offer you a CFA and even if you can find a lawyer to take your case, because you can’t recover your success fee, you still end up out of pocket. I fail to see how this amounts to a rebalancing of the scales of justice.
Howard Shelley, QualitySolicitors CMHT, Walsall, West Midlands