The Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter has given a huge hint that his party, Labour, would some aspects of the Jackson reforms if they were to regain power at the next general election. He called the decision to make so many changes at once “foolhardy” and the former barrister also said that it was too soon to judge the success, or otherwise, of the civil rights reforms. Once pressed, Slaughter said that his party would unwind some of the changes if they were found to be failing.
On the 1st April there were sweeping changes to the personal injury industry and the way in which consumers are able to make claims and pay for the resulting court cases. In particular, the changes mean that solicitor fees can no longer be claimed from the losing party. Instead, solicitors will claim the money they are owed for their services from the successful party. A 10% increase in claim values was implemented in a bid to cover these costs.
No win no fee cases are commonplace and they enable anybody to be able to pursue a case, even if they do not have the money to cover the cost of legal services. Solicitors are unlikely to take on a case they won’t win because they won’t receive any money and even those with low incomes are able to enjoy access to legal representation to pursue a variety of different cases. It was this area of law that was hit hardest by changes because the winning solicitor would normally reclaim costs from the losing party.
Under the Jackson reforms, claim values were increased by 10% but solicitor costs would be taken out of these fees instead of being recouped from the losing side. Typically, a claimant and their solicitor will now agree what is known as a Damages Based Agreement. This is a percentage of the damages won up to a maximum of 25% that the solicitor will receive from the claimant’s compensation package. This would replace the money that would previously have been collected from the other solicitors.
The reforms have come under fire from many parties, claiming that it meant claimants would be less inclined to pursue action and that where the Damages Based Agreement was higher than 10% it meant that the claimant would receive less compensation than under the old system. However, Andy Slaughter was more critical of the extent and number of changes that were being introduced in a single run rather than the actual details of the changes.
During the Westminster Legal Policy Forum, Mr Slaughter said that it was too early to judge the effectiveness of the changes. He also said that the legal profession was having to deal with an unprecedented avalanche of changes and that he didn’t know how the legal profession, let alone the public could cope with so many reforms. He said that the criticism and changes were a clear indication of why it is important not to hear opinions that are too heavily slanted to one side of the argument, and that consultation should have included members of the Legal Industry.
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