Tag Archives: Government

Legal Funding For Personal Injury Still Available – Despite Legal Reform

“The removal of legal aid will start to undermine the rule of law. People will feel like the government isn’t giving them access to justice and that will either lead to frustration and lack of confidence in the system, or it will lead to people taking the law into their own hands.”

 

Such was the opinion of Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, prior to the 2013 enactment of the much maligned and criticised “Jackson Reforms,” enshrined mostly in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

In the post- LASPO world, civil litigation has become increasingly of concern for the legal sector, and civil rights campaigners. A key part of LASPO was to reduce legal aid funding. Consequently, a great majority of people are now, quite simply, unable to take their cases to court. The cost of going to court, of obtaining legal representation, in most cases now has to be met by the parties concerned. With no recourse to legal aid, more and more are simply unable to obtain justice.

The secondary impact of that has been to radically reform the legal sector in other ways. Small law firms have had great struggles in a post LASPO world, as fewer civil litigants are coming to them. Many law firms have either gone under, merged, or diversified. For both litigants and lawyers alike, the post LASPO legal landscape has been greatly damaging. Indeed, a 2014 Ministry of Justice select committee investigation was damning in the scale of the damage done to the provisions of civil justice.

However, LASPO has not been a total disaster across the board; some sectors have remained relatively unscathed, or have suffered little, due to the Jackson Reforms. Immigration is one such area. Although only specific immigration cases can now be handled under a legal aid certificate, many immigration matters (predominantly asylum) are still eligible for public funding. Another such area of civil law is personal injury, and certain areas of employment law.

However, personal injury (PI) has for a long time funded itself in many cases outside the provisions of legal aid. Since 1998, until 2013, the majority of PI cases were funded under a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA). With a CFA, the lawyers and court costs are only paid after the case is settled, and on the understanding that the litigant will win their case. If the litigant does not win, then they themselves do not pay their legal costs. The same year that LASPO was enacted saw the CFA structure alter, but although changed, the essential details remained the same. Consequently, PI is one area of civil law that is still very much accessible for the average person regardless of financial means, due to CFA’s.

Personal injuries can often arise as the result of accidents at work. Despite the best safety procedures, and strict health and safety guidelines, and regular inspections, it is only too easy to have an accident at work- often with a long lasting medical impact. Employment law itself has had varied fortunes following LASPO. Discrimination cases are still eligible for public funding- with many discrimination cases often starting in the workplace. Many workplace issues and disputes now end up in arbitration or workplace mediation, or dealt with by the relevant Trade Unions, prior to an Employment Tribunal or civil court, and it is before such mediation that most settlements are actually arrived at. As such, the need to go to court regarding an employment dispute has in many instances fallen. Accidents at work, and matters of employer liability in that area, still remain one of the greatest sources of workplace related litigation. Accidents at work, though, are often still handled under CFA’s, being as they are PI cases.

As such, in some areas of civil law (such as employment law, immigration, and PI), litigants are still able to get access to justice, if only via mediation or alternative funding means. However, in a great many civil cases (notably family), the Jackson reforms have ushered in an era of limited access to justice.

That limited access to justice, criticised roundly by many in all areas of the legal sector, is set to stay for the time being. Law firms and lawyers will suffer as fewer seek legal representation due to the cots involved. However, it is the would be litigant who will suffer the most, as they are driven away from seeking their absolute right of a legal remedy to a civil dispute, in most cases.

Court of Appeal Rules man can Sue UK Government

abdul-hakim-belhajJudges at the Court of Appeal have decided that Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan man who claims to have been illegally sent back to his home land and tortured, can mount a case against the UK government in court.

Previously, the High Court had decided that Mr Belhaj’s case could not be heard in a British courtroom because of the potential damage it could do to international relations. Specifically, it was decided by Mr Justice Simon that, in spite of the alleged knowledge held by UK officials, a court in England did not have the power to adjudicate on claims of rendition and torture that took place in Libya. Furthermore, the court  dcided that many of the claims were “non-justiciable” in UK courts because they involved officials in China, Libya and other countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.On these grounds, it was decided that the case be thrown out.

However, the Court of Appeal has overturned this decision, with judges deciding that Mr Belhaj’s claims were “grave” enough to warrant being heard in court. Judges at the Appeal Court said that state immunity was not enough to bar the proceedings. Furthermore, Lord Dyson voiced the opinion that there is “a compelling public interest in the investigation by the English courts of these very grave allegations.”

Sapna Malik, the lawyer representing Mr Belhaj, described the decision as a “very significant step forward.” Mr Belhaj, who is now a politician in his homeland of Libya, said that he and his wife were “gratified by the judges’ decision to give us our day in court.”

Mr Belhaj alleges that MI6 and Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, were deeply involved with the arrangement of the rendition of Mr Belhaj and his wife from China. According to Mr Belhaj, who previously led a group opposing the Muammar Gaddafi regime, claimed that information leading to his rendition was provided by British Intelligence.

The rendition took place in 2004, and resulted in Mr Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar being returned to their homeland where they were subjected to torture which, according to Mr Belhaj, is “as fresh and as painful for us as if it happened yesterday.” Mr Straw has previously denied any awareness of the rendition.

The government and Jack Straw now have the option to appeal to the Supreme Court. If an appeal is made, the case will not be heard until this has concluded. According to a statement from the Foreign Office, it is currently considering whether to lodge an application for an appeal or not.