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No Win, No Fee Arrangements

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2012

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 received Royal Assent on 1 May. Part 2 of the Act contains provisions that will fundamentally reform no win, no fee agreements to make them fairer between claimants and defendants. The changes will come into effect in April 2013, and we will set out more details about their implementation in due course.

The Government agreed to review no win, no fee arrangements for victims of mesothelioma and their families, possibly just to get the Bill through the House of Lords. Mesothelioma is a terrible disease, and everybody who suffers from it dies a terrible death. What will the Minister do to ensure that victims and their families are properly protected, in light of the review?

It is true to say that the issue was heavily debated during the passage of the Bill. I am pleased to note that all parties in the House reached an agreed way forward. The Government are therefore committed to action on mesothelioma, and various proposals about the claims process are being considered. I am sure the House will understand that it would be inappropriate to draw up the terms of reference now for a review that will not take place for some time, but we will share details of the review process in due course.

One of the worst mistakes that our last Government made was bringing in no win, no fee. It has Americanised our legal aid system and brought in a risk-averse culture and a load of ambulance chasers, so I welcome what the Government are doing. Will the Minister confirm that he will not let it rest there, that no win, no fee is now under a real review and that we will not tolerate the behaviour that we have seen in recent years?

We are retaining no win, no fee for conditional fee agreements, but we are getting rid of the reforms that the Labour Government put in place whereby success fees and after-the-event insurance were recoverable. We will effectively return to the position of the last Conservative Government, which I hope and expect will put balance back into the claims equation.

To get his Bill through, the Minister promised a 10% uplift in general damages and protection from costs for losing personal injury claimants. Those are poor substitutes for the current rules that his friends in the insurance industry wanted rid of, but where are those concessions? Are they more broken promises?

No. All those procedures are being put in place, not least because of our concern to retain access to justice. As the hon. Gentleman said, we are introducing several measures that will help personal injury claimants pay their solicitors’ success fees and, if necessary, insurance premiums. For example, there will be a 10% increase in general damages, and we are introducing a system of qualified one-way costs shifting, which will be in place before the Act commences next April.