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Legal Aid

Volume 451: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) how much in legal aid money has been spent on the third generation combined oral contraceptive pill litigation; how much has been paid to each (a) barrister and (b) firm of solicitors in connection with the case; what hourly rate was paid in each case; and whether these payments represent risk rates paid so that service providers would be unlikely to profit in the eventuality of the case being unsuccessful; (97987)

(2) if she will list the (a) barristers and (b) firms of solicitors who acted for the legally aided claimants in the third generation combined oral contraceptive pill litigation.

This case concerned a multi party action (MPA) against the manufacturers of Femodene and other third generation oral contraceptive pills, for allegedly causing personal injury, including cardiovascular injuries to those who consumed them. Approximately 120 women were funded to bring proceedings against the manufacturers. This culminated in a 13-week trial during 2002. The total cost to the legal aid fund was £9.9 million. The case did not succeed, but had it done so, then as with all civil cases against privately funded parties, significant damages would likely to have been awarded and the legal costs subsequently met by the opposing parties. The net cost to the legal aid fund would then have been very little, or even nothing.

Legal aid was reformed in 2000 to exclude personal injury cases from receiving funding. However in some exceptional cases an independent panel of experts advises the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to grant funding, especially where the panel believes the case has “significant wider public interest”, as they did with this litigation. Given the wide availability of Femodene and other third generation oral contraceptive pills, the panel decided that it was important for the public to know they could have confidence in the product licensing system and therefore advised the LSC to fund the litigation.

The solicitor firms involved were Houghton and Co and Leigh Day and Co. Houghton and Co were paid £7,365,969 and £948,361 in disbursements. A single costs assessment certificate was issued by the court to Houghton and Co as the lead solicitor firm under the MPA contract. I understand that of this total, £1.8 million was paid to Leigh Day and Co.

The solicitors were paid prescribed rates under the Legal Aid in Civil Proceedings (Remuneration) Regulations 1994. There are a variety of rates reflecting the work carried out.

The rates for this action included the following:

Preparation—£74.00 to £79.50 per hour

Routine letters out —£7.40 to £7.50 per item

Routine telephone calls—£4.10 to £4.15 per item

Attending hearing or conference with counsel—£36.40 to £37.00 per hour

Attending hearing without counsel—£32.70 to £33.25 per hour.

Additionally, enhancements ranging between 75 per cent. to 200 per cent. were assessed as reasonable by the court for items of work carried out under these rates depending on the complexity of the specific work carried out.

The barristers were paid under the brief fee and refresher fee structure applied to civil litigation, which did not then include hourly rates.

The following table lists how much was paid by way of brief fees and refresher fees to barristers that were paid a brief fee in the action.

£

Barrister

Brief Fee

Refresher

Lord Brennan Q.C.

250,000

97,500

Robin Oppenheim

134,500

58,000

William Edis

114,500

54,750

Richard Hermer

104,500

40,000

Other barristers were also paid for work on the case but they were not paid brief fees or refresher fees and did not take part in the trial.

Risk rates were not paid for this action. The funding arrangements were agreed before the introduction of the MPA contract terms in 1999, which introduced risk rates.