The news that the government has put on hold the application of a Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme, intended to fund the clinical negligence cases that will still fall under the scope of the scheme from next April, is a relief to claimant lawyers. In particular those like Kingsley Napley, who specialise in acting for children with brain injuries acquired during birth such as cerebral palsy.
The proposal had been to take a percentage of the damages awarded and reinvest the money to fund other cases. The objection was obvious and simple: These are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and compensation is awarded to meet their life-long needs. Damages awards never represent a lottery win and, therefore, to deprive these claimants of monies that they will need to secure their future was wrong.
Although we must, and do, welcome the announcement, it is not without the caveat that the Ministry of Justice have not ruled out such a scheme as an option for the future. We would prefer an acknowledgment that the proposal is unfair and therefore should be permanently shelved.
As a team with many years’ experience of fighting for children with cerebral palsy, we only see the landscape changing in a negative way. The squeeze on public funding will hit everybody but the most vulnerable have most to lose. Although we can pause briefly to applaud the government for abandoning the supplementary legal aid scheme, we need to remain clear that such proposals should stay in the long grass.