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Legal Aid (Clinical Negligence Cases)

Volume 519: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2010

15. What assessment he has made of the effects on the NHS of removing clinical negligence from the scope of legal aid. (25574)

Clinical negligence cases against the NHS are funded approximately 50:50 between legal aid and no win, no fee agreements with lawyers. We will be interested to understand through our consultation the specific impact on the NHS of the removal of clinical negligence cases from the scope of legal aid, which should save some £17 million to legal aid. However, we also estimate that our proposals to reform no win, no fee conditional fee agreements will save around £50 million each year to the NHS in reduced legal costs.

Could reducing legal aid for clinical negligence lead to an upsurge in no win, no fee deals and an increase in the compensation culture?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that changes in one area can have knock-on implications in another area. It is important to point out that that is precisely why we put out the legal aid consultation document on the same day as Sir Rupert Jackson’s proposals on no win, no fee agreements. The two can be weighed up together and the consultation will therefore take a holistic approach.

On legal aid, the Minister has spoken today about working with voluntary sector organisations. Community Links’ welfare advice service in my area has seen 9,000 people so far this year. It is very cost-effective and has been paid for until now by legal aid. Under the Minister’s proposals, it will not be in the future. How will that work be supported by the Government in the period ahead?

People have the option of getting conditional fee agreements, also known as no win, no fee agreements. They can go to a lawyer and that lawyer will take a view on the chances of success. The question that must be asked—we will be very interested to hear the responses to it during the consultation—is whether, if the private sector is not prepared to take on the risk, the public sector should be prepared to do so and what proportion of that risk it will be prepared to take on.

Following my question to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice during his legal aid statement, is there not a danger that, given the complexity of clinical negligence cases, the most vulnerable will not have access to no win, no fee simply because such companies will not offer their services to them?

There will still be power to grant legal aid in exceptional cases where a CFA will not be available, although that power will be restricted. The fact remains that CFAs will still be available for people with no ability to fund their cases so that they can take proceedings.