BIG DEBATE: Whether the government should stop ‘no win, no fee’ cases

Is 'no win, no fee' legal justice costing us more pot holes?

Is 'no win, no fee' legal justice costing us more pot holes? - Credit: Archant

The government is being urged to clamp down on “opportunistic” no-win, no-fee accident claims which the Local Government Association says is “draining taxpayers’ money” from public services. Claims for trivial incidents risk highways and education budgets because lawyers talk people into making claims with no-risk legal fees, the LGA says. Compensation claims for accidents on neglected roads last year alone totalled £31m — the cost of filling 600,000 pot-holes! But George Woodhead, a barrister covering courts in east London and elsewhere, and director of thelegalaide.co.uk, says such pot-hole justice will limit people’s access to rightful compensation:

FOR: LGA's Peter Fleming... AGAINST: The legal Aide's George Woodhead

FOR: LGA's Peter Fleming... AGAINST: The legal Aide's George Woodhead - Credit: Archant

FOR: Peter Fleming, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Improvement Board, says unscrupulous lawyers persuade some people to make dubious claims at the expense of the public purse:

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It is absolutely right that compensation is made available to people with genuine cases if they’ve had an accident.

But local authorities have feared for a long time that some lawyers are clogging up the system with spurious claims from people just chancing their arm.

The vast majority of lawyers do a commendable job.


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However, there is a small, but significant, minority of opportunistic lawyers leeching away money which would be much better spent improving our schools and fixing our roads.

Some claims being made and fees being charged beggar belief.

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Popular local services like leisure facilities, children’s centres and pothole repairs are likely to bear the brunt of funding cuts over the next two years.

The extra burden of spurious compensation claims poses a real threat to the Town Hall’s ability to protect the services people value most — at a time when it is having to cope with the biggest cuts to local service budgets in living memory.

Public safety is a priority for local councils which take seriously their responsibility to avoid these types of claims occurring in the first place, by making sure people do not come to any harm.

All too often, the only real winners are the lawyers whose huge legal fees can dwarf the compensation payouts received by their clients.

The government has already gone some way towards reforming no-win, no-fee claims. A Legal Ombudsman’s report earlier this year concluded that the no-win, no-fee model has helped foster a culture of ambulance chasing and fraudulent claims which has inadvertently driven up insurance premiums.

We need a further and fuller overhaul of the claims system to stop opportunistic lawyers lining their pockets at the public’s expense.

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AGAINST:

George Woodhead, a barister covering courts in east London and elsewhere, and a director of The Legal Aide, a company which trains people to represent themselves in court, believes this is an attempt by local authorities to limit access to justice to reduce the number of claims against them:

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The argument by the Local Government Association is weak and troubling — yet another example of politicians seeking to limit access to justice that should concern us all.

The LGA dress their argument as an attack on greedy, pushy lawyers.

But really, it’s an attack on the people who are injured by the mistakes and failings of the local council — and they could be you or I.

Yes, there are people that “chance their arm”. That has and always will be the reality.

But the call for “a further and fuller overhaul” won’t stop fraudulent people bringing fraudulent claims. That, I am afraid, is the cost of our famously independent legal system.

But that is why we have courts and judges, to examine all claims and report fraud to the police.

The fact that £31.6 million was spent last year by local authorities on accident claims shows that they routinely fail to provide the public services and safety that they are required to required by law.

That is not the claimants’ fault, nor the lawyers’ fault. It is successive governments who underfunded road repairs, the LGA say, leaving councils with a backlog. Quelle surprise!

Many civil claims are brought against local councils each year — ‘pothole accidents’ is one, small category.

I hope claims will be brought by the young victims of the appalling grooming and sexual abuse in Rotherham.

Who will represent them? Pocket-lining “no win, no fee” lawyers, I suppose — who else?

But tie the hands of those lawyers and you tie the hands of the victims seeking remedy through the court.

It should always concern us when the State seeks to clip the wings of lawyers and journalists. Don’t be fooled by the voices of transient, short-sighted politicians.

This isn’t about potholes — the LGA’s aim is to further limit your access to justice.

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