Ordinary people, including the elderly, will be denied expert legal advice required to navigate the court system and understand essential medical evidence to prove their injury, the Law Society warned today.
The warning came as justice secretary David Lidington confirmed the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will increase the small claims limit for personal injury.
President of the Law Society of England and Wales Joe Egan said: “The lord chancellor insisted today in a Justice Select Committee hearing that road traffic accident claims up to £5,000 ‘are not cases where it ought normally to be necessary to have legal representation’.”
"The reality is that a five-fold increase in the small claims limit - from £1,000 to £5,000 for road traffic accidents - will prevent people who’ve been injured through no fault of their own from recovering legal costs. This means that many people would not be able to obtain legal representation for claims when they have been injured, forcing them to fight through the courts on their own without legal help.
Serious personal injuries, including certain bone fractures and some facial scarring, would be considered as 'small claims'. This increase means someone who’s been injured through no fault of their own will have to instruct and pay a doctor upfront to provide a medical report. They will have to interpret what that medical report means in terms of what compensation they should get. They will need to present arguments to the court as to why the other party is liable and what they should get. It is simply not realistic to expect people to do this without advice and representation.
Joe Egan noted the justice secretary’s acknowledgment that it is important to have a justice system that allows access and that the government needs to take a step back in its approach to court and tribunal fees. His comments follow a Supreme Court judgment in July which held that the introduction of fees of up to £1,600 to bring an employment claim were illegal.
The Law Society welcomed the assurance that the MoJ will shortly be announcing the post legislative review of LASPO and will listen to representations made by stakeholders.
Cuts to legal aid spending over the past four years have denied justice to the most vulnerable in society, hit the public purse and damaged the foundation of the justice system.
Joe Egan said: "Our own review of LASPO highlights the fundamental question of how to restore and protect access to justice for everyone in the 21st century regardless of their economic circumstances."
Responding to the MoJ plans to cut fees to criminal litigators undertaking complex cases in the crown court, Joe Egan warned: " The quality of legal representation for anyone accused of wrongdoing in England and Wales will be damaged significantly by new cuts to defence solicitor fees. The relatively minor savings that might be obtained from these ill-advised cuts do not warrant the substantial damage they could cause to the sustainability of a very fragile market, and to access to justice in this country.”
Notes to editors
The government is going to raise the small claims limit for personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000 and to stop or radically reduce compensation payments for minor soft tissue injuries, including whiplash.
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