On 1st April 2013 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) came into effect. For lawyers and the legal profession it is a devastating bit of legislation but it's worse for those who need to rely on the law to help them out. For one thing it will cut the number of individuals who currently qualify for legal aid by 75%. That's an estimated 200,000 of society’s most vulnerable people who will now have to try and find the money to pay for legal advice privately or risk going it alone. Want to get a solicitor or barrister to help you challenge your bedroom tax in Court? Well sorry; legal aid for welfare appeals is no longer available so you'll have to do that yourself. The likelihood is that without legal representation people will be put off going down the legal route and will just have to suffer in silence. LASPO also covers the legislation which deals with "No Win No Fee" work. A lot of people don't realise that No Win No Fee is not some fantastic marketing scheme dreamt up by lawyers but is actually enshrined in government legislation and was introduced to encourage solicitors to take on work for client's who couldn't afford to pay privately when legal aid for personal injury was withdrawn a few years ago. What was in in for solicitors was the payment of a success fee. This uplift was a percentage figure based upon the risk involved and compensated them for the for the fact that some of the claims didn’t succeed and also that they could be waiting up to 3 years or more before they receive any payment. The success fee was paid by the Defendant which meant solicitors could guarantee their client’s 100% of the compensation. After successful lobbying from the insurance companies (who more often then not used to end up paying the costs involved) the changes brought in by LASPO will mean that the success fee will no longer be paid by the Defendant but will be paid from the Claimant’s compensation. The success fee can be no more than 25% of the Claimant’s compensation for their injuries and past losses but the days of the Claimant getting 100% of their compensation guaranteed is at an end. The government have stated that a cushion for this deduction is that the amount of compensation received by the Claimant for the injury will be increased by 10% but that’s still likely to leave a Claimant worse off post 1st April 2013 then they would have been even 24 hours before. So the Claimant will have slightly less compensation and will be responsible for some of their legal costs. It is the view of many that this is fair and shifting the costs in this way will make Claimant’s think twice before pursuing a spurious claim. That’s not a view I share because I think the system as it stood meant that spurious and fraudulent claims were filtered out in any event. But regardless of what I think it’s now the law and we’ll have to just learn to live with it. Besides what I’m concerned about is that there is worse yet to come. At the moment if your injury is worth over £1,000 you can instruct a solicitor on a No Win No Fee basis because the rules allow you to recover your legal fees from the Defendant. Below £1,000 and it is a small claim and the costs rule there is that “each party are responsible for their own costs.” That basically means you can get legal advice but you’re paying for it and you won’t be able to get the cost back from the other side even if you win. On 1st April 2013 the small claims limit for non personal injury civil claims was increased from £5,000 to £10,000. The government have given every indication that they intend to do the same over the next few months with personal injury claims. They haven’t said how much the increase will be but it’s expected to be £5,000 although there have been suggestions that it should be as high as £15,000. The government’s reason for doing so is based on their view that we are the “whiplash capital of Europe.” The vast majority of whiplash claims are worth less then £5,000 and so if you make it so that Claimant’s have to pay their own legal fees the government hope that’ll discourage all those whiplash claims from being made. The problem is that if you raise the small claims limit for personal injury you’re impacting not just on people who’ve suffered whiplash but also any one else who has a claim worth less then the small claims limit. The vast majority of dog bite victims also usually recover compensation of less than £5,000 and so they too are going to be affected. If the government have their way from Summer 2013 dog bite victims with claims worth less than (at least) £5,000 will no longer be able to instruct a solicitor on a No Win No Fee basis. Like those who no longer qualify for legal aid the options available to dog bite victims will be to find the money to pay for legal advice privately or risk going it alone. How many victims decide to act and represent themselves where the defendant is very possibly backed by insurers and their legal team remains to be seen. The fear is they’ll decide to suffer in silence or start proceedings only to be persuaded by a defendant insurer they have no claim or it’s of little value. The fear is that justice won’t be done. All too often dog bite victims are told by police that “it’s a civil matter” but it seems that soon not only will they have scant protection in criminal law because of the current Dangerous Dogs Act and the ineffective changes planned for 2015/16 but they’ll have little hope of getting redress through the civil courts either. It looks likely that they will remain the victim.
Another blow for dog bite victims.