Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has announced plans to reform civil legal aid and to axe funding for clinical negligence claims. The proposals are intended to cut the legal aid bill by £350 million a year by 2015.
Ken Clarke said: "It cannot be right that the taxpayer is footing the bill for unnecessary court cases which would never even have reached the courtroom door, were it not for the fact that somebody else was paying."
The plans will be subject to consultation until February 2011.
If the plans go ahead, then it will be necessary for claimants to secure alternate means of funding to have access to justice. The coalition Government is presumably expecting this to be by way of conditional fee agreements (no win no fee agreements) but those are also currently under attack. Sir Rupert Jackson's review of civil litigation costs, published in January 2010, put forward a host of recommendations, one of which was that conditional fee agreement success fees be abolished and instead, claimants should make a contribution to costs out of their damages (compensation). This could potentially make it uneconomical for more modest value cases to be investigated and pursued, no matter how genuine they may be.
We wait to see what the consultation period will bring and what may happen to clinical negligence legal aid funding for birth injury cases in particular. It is difficult to see how investigating the circumstances in which a birth injury has occurred and why a child has significant brain injury as a result could ever be described as 'unnecessary'.