In 1998, a decision was made that was seen as very controversial at the time – to abolish the right to legal aid in personal injury law cases. This eventually came into effect in 2000. The main reason this cut-off was deemed necessary was because an average of 700,000 claimants a year in this area of law alone meant that the cost to the public purse was soaring out of control.
Bureaucracy seemed to have a role to play in this abolition too, with many successful claimants finding that once they had covered the statutory payments that were required to settle all costs, there was very little in the way of compensation left for them. It would seem that the claimant was getting a far better deal if they lost, as in these circumstances legal aid would cover all applicable costs. Moreover, this scheme was seen as being completely inflexible.
Luckily, but in no way thanks to the Government, the abolition of legal aid for personal injury claims has actually had quite a positive impact on this area of law. This is not to say that the system is completely perfect; far from it!
Many people looking for a good legal representative for personal injury claims should not need to struggle at all. In fact, Conditional Fee Agreements are now general practice, and claimants can actually obtain an even better deal than they had before with legal aid. These agreements are more commonly known as “no win no fee” deals, and they can go even further than this, in that the claimant may never need to part with a single penny at all. This is because the costs will be covered if he or she loses the case, and the legal representative can recover fees through the opposing side’s insurance company in the event that the case is successful.
This is one area where claimants will need to be extremely cautious, however, as it is absolutely imperative to check through the small print of the Conditional Fee Agreement before going ahead and signing. Some less-than-reputable and unscrupulous firms have been known to include some nasty hidden charges for the provision of their services, and this can even extend to a client literally having to take out personal loans to secure a claim. This is definitely the exception rather than the rule, however, and most clients should be able to relax with the thought of no fees at all, come what may.
Personal injury firms will obviously have to be extremely careful over the types of cases they take on in the first place. This means stringently vetting all potential clients, but at least the clients will have a very good idea of their chances of success, if the case is taken on. Potential claimants should realise that firms will not touch them with a barge pole unless they genuinely think they are going to win. At the end of the day, you cannot help but think that this is a very good thing.
People on lower incomes must still be able to access this area of law; after all, for them especially, so much can be riding on the eventual outcome of a case. The compensation packages can make a huge difference, and when people have suffered extreme financial loss as a result of an accident that was not their fault, of course they should have the means available to recover lost funds. This will also be the case for securing additional compensation for any financial loss that is thought likely to transpire in the future.
All in all, then, it is probably fair to say that the legal system of England and Wales deserves a pat on the back for the way in which it has helped this area of law to evolve. Circumstances could have been very different by now if all the legal firms had decided that it really would not be worth their while to pursue these types of cases anymore. Luckily, this has not been the mentality, and people on lower incomes have every chance of realising a level of justice here.
Of course, though, fewer personal injury adverts on the television would be even nicer, but then, we can’t have everything we want, can we?