Government proposals to be debated in the House of Lords today (Wednesday) will have a devastating impact on access to justice for injured people.
But there is an alternative to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill which will minimise the impact on claimants, reduce insurance premiums, and address many of the government's stated concerns about compensation for personal injury claims.
The alternative is backed by three leading legal organisations: the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), the Law Society and the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS).
Under the government's proposals, part of the legal costs of bringing a claim will be passed from the defendant to the claimant, dramatically reducing damages in the most catastrophic cases, and preventing many from bringing valid cases at all, due to the cost risk involved.
The alternative means claimant solicitors will take vastly reduced success fees (the uplift in fees they receive from winning claims) and the market for after-the-event (ATE) insurance (which is purchased by claimants to protect them from cost risks if they lose) will be reduced.
Both factors will mean a fundamental reduction in costs paid by the insurance industry for personal injury claims, and will give the industry no choice but to reduce insurance premiums, which was the subject of a much-publicised round-table meeting between insurers and the Prime Minister.
At the same time, the alternative transforms one of the government's most problematic proposals into a workable way to help protect injured people from being susceptible to payment of their legal costs. First proposed by Lord Justice Jackson in his review of legal costs, the concept of 'qualified one way cost shifting' was designed to protect claimants from having to pay legal costs. If it could be made to work, it would make the need for ATE premiums largely unnecessary, dramatically reducing the market which remains.
But concerns about the complications involved in means-testing have been raised by both claimant representatives and insurers. The alternative proposes that one way cost shifting should not be means-tested at all and that it should apply to all claimants except those found to be fraudulent. It would also take precedence over all other costs rules, to simplify procedures.
The alternative makes sense. As the LASPO Bill has moved through the House of Lords, many peers have expressed strongest concerns about the impact of the Bill on injured people and will continue to do so today. The government must now listen to reason.