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Vanishing point

Coupling costs reform with legal aid cuts could cause calamity for clinical negligence claimants, argues Malcolm Underhill

13 December 2010

The Ministry of Justice’s business plan for the next four years sets out drastic reforms of the justice system as a whole. But the Lord Chancellor’s proposals to dramatically slash the legal aid budget could have a significant impact on clinical negligence cases in particular.

Mounting costs are likely to create a chilling effect on the riskier cases as claimants fear bankruptcy and cash-strapped lawyers avoid losses. A substantial reduction in the number of progressive court challenges and landmark decisions could easily be the result.

Half of the clinical negligence cases brought to court are with the support of legal aid. It is the intention of the government to withdraw the availability of this funding completely, arguing that alternative sources can plug the hole. But what these alternative sources will look like remains at best unclear and, at worst, worrying.

Conditional fee agreements (CFAs) are one obvious candidate, but the government has been keen t...

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