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Legal Aid Act 1988: Section 17

Volume 593: debated on Thursday 3 September 1998

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the operation of Section 17 of the Legal Aid Act 1988 encourages health service defendants to settle low-value unmeritorious claims to avoid irrecoverable legal costs. [HL3200]

The fact that assisted parties rarely have to pay costs if they lose can deter their opponents from pressing their cases fully, regardless of the nature of the assisted party's claim, its value, or its merits. However, the Government does not believe that removing assisted parties' protection from paying costs would be the right action to take. To do so would risk leaving assisted parties, who are among the poorest members of society, facing large debts that they would never be able to pay off, and could deter people from bringing important and meritorious cases. Nonetheless, I am considering ways of tightening the merits test, so that unmeritorious cases should not receive legal aid in future.