Is the Government calling ‘Time’ on Ambulance Chasers?
While few companies actually seek to endanger their employees or the public, they have in the last decade become wary of the ‘compensation culture’ that bedevils any accident that may befall the firm. Construction safety is frequently held to account due to claims, sometimes vexatious ones, which may be funded by ‘no win, no fee’ law firms, often encouraged by unions.
The controversial Legal Aid Bill, which is designed in part to tackle the spread of this culture, received its Royal Assent on 1 May: but now contains concessions introduced by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke that still allow victims of mesothelioma to make use of ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements. The Act will come into force in stages over the next year and more details are expected before the House rises for its summer recess.
Mr. Clarke commented: ‘The Act will reform the rules for no-win no-fee deals, so the cost and risk of taking on cases is more evenly balanced between claimants and defendants, and referral fees will be banned. The Act aims to stop the symptoms of a compensation culture where the public are facing increased insurance costs, and local authorities and firms are scared to go about their business, due to the high legal costs that widely advertised no-win no-fee deals can ramp up.
Changes were proposed by the Lords to exempt all victims of industrial diseases from these reforms, but this was ruled out by the Commons.
The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act bans referral fees and conditional fee arrangements in a number of compensation types. The Ministry of Justice claims that these had been largely responsible for inflating insurance premiums.
You can’t please every one.
However, you can never please everyone and, playing the populist card, shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan described the Bill as ‘unfair and tawdry’. He described it as ‘a sad and tatty chapter in the story of post-war access to justice. It shamefully reduces damages for victims of clinical negligence and the sufferers of most industrial diseases.’
A Plaid Cymru Peer, Lord Wigley, was worried that concessions were not extended to industrial disease sufferers, saying:
the position of other industrial workers who have suffered injury or illness as a direct result of their work remains unsatisfactory due to this bill, and I will continue to press these issues on their behalf. Many of the workers have devoted decades of their lives to industry in Wales and beyond. The least the government can do is commit to responding to this dedication with fairness and respect
Predictably, most upset of all is the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. This body has warned that the concession for mesothelioma victims must not solely pay lip service. Karl Tonks their President said: ‘While this concession is welcome, it is critical that this is a genuine review and not simply a delay in implementing the government’s original proposals.’
The original Bill was introduced by Kenneth Clarke as long ago as June 2011, so it has had a slow passage before becoming Law. The Act includes many recommendations set out in Lord Justice Jackson’s review.
Whatever the final implementation details, it has to be the case from the point of view of construction contractors that this is another business-friendly measure from Government, coming hard on the heels of the first moves to tear up pointless safety legislation. Two cheers for the legislators…