Rushed implementation of Part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentence and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) risks adding to costs and clogging up the civil courts, the Law Society has warned.
In a letter to Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said more time must be given for the civil justice system to adjust.
The Law Society is warning that premature implementation may lead to major damage to claimants. It has requested the delay of the implementation arguing that the 1 April 2013 deadline is far too soon, particularly as the necessary regulations and changes to the Civil Procedure Rules have yet to be published.
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said, 'There is no fiscal urgency to make the reforms quickly and every reason for them to be implemented to a timescale that can be managed by all. The new regime represents the most significant change to the civil justice system since the Woolf reforms in 1999. It will radically affect the way in which legal advice and representation is funded and involve major changes to the rules. The legal system will need time to assimilate the changes if they are to be implemented smoothly.
'We are particularly concerned about the timing. The Road Traffic Accident (RTA) Portal Company has expressed doubts about its ability to meet the deadline of 1 April 2013 to bring in the changes needed to encompass employment liability and public liability claims. The protocols for the process are not yet complete. Both must be implemented together and in sufficient time for the profession to adjust and prepare, which seems unlikely by 1 April.
'Furthermore, the rules governing qualified one-way cost shifting have yet to be approved. Understanding these rules will be crucial to the advice that solicitors will give to claimants and defendants on their actions in these claims. It is far from clear that the profession will receive the necessary advice and guidance on the implications of the rules in time.'
Implementation of LASPO will require considerable changes to case management systems, work processes and business planning by law firms. Rushed implementation is likely to lead to regulations that are ambiguous and poorly considered - possibly resulting in significant satellite litigation which will simply add to costs, create further uncertainty and increase the work of an already overburdened civil courts system.
The Law Society has been invited by the Ministry of Justice to engage in further discussions about the rules governing conditional fee arrangements and damages-based agreements which suggests that the regulations will not be available until early in the new year. The legal profession will need to not only understand the effect of the rules, but also to consider their implications for the way in which they provide services in order to enable them to develop arrangements which are fair to clients.
The Law Society supports the ban on referral fees but warns that that there has been a substantial lack of clarity about the precise extent of the ban and there is considerable ambiguity about what activities the regulators will and will not regard as being covered by the ban.
Additional reforms which are being introduced at the same time in accordance with some of the recommendations of Lord Justice Jackson have yet to be published, adding to the problems solicitors are experiencing in planning how they will continue to supply legal services to their clients.
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff concluded, 'Bringing all these complex changes into force on 1 April next year, in this rushed way and at breakneck speed, is a recipe for chaos.'
Read the letter to Chris Grayling (PDF 250kb)
Notes to Editors:
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Contact: Catherine Reed, The Law Society, +44 (0)20 7320 5902