Site Meter

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

State has no right to cut access to justice

State has no right to cut access to justice

Letters, The Guardian, Tuesday 29 March 2011

In your article (He's awake!, 27 March), you reported the lord chancellor's arguments supporting the proposed reform of legal costs, which disguises a chilling attack on the fundamental rights of citizens to seek redress when they are injured. It was the previous government that expanded the use of "no-win no-fee" agreements to cut legal aid 10 years ago. If they are now costing the government more than legal aid did, it may be right to review the policy, but not to cut people's right to seek justice. No win no fee arrangements provide access to justice where government refuses to do so.

The government also expresses concern about the lack of proportionality about costs and fees. It is a well-understood fact that there is a irreducable minimum for case costs, irrespective of the economic value of a case. The Law Society rejects the claim that, if the amount of damages at stake is small compared to the costs of pursuing the claim, then the claim is somehow less legitimate. While the amount of damages recovered may be small, the significance of it to the claimant depends on their own financial situation. For the poorest in society even winning a small claim may be very significant to their personal circumstances.

One reason high payments are sometimes paid is that defendants, particularly government bodies, sometimes defend the indefensible or delay settlement unnecessarily. In part the government is legislating to avoid being required to meet the costs of its own abuse of people's rights. It will be able to deny claims with impunity, knowing it has ensured that people will not be able to afford to challenge that denial.

Linda Lee

President, Law Society

No comments: