The Access to Justice Act or the no win, no fee law was first proposed in 1999 and came into force in 2000. It was designed to make it easier for those with a genuine personal injury case to be able to make a claim more and reduce the financial burden placed upon the government by the previous compensation process. When it first came out the public were bombarded with no win, no fee adverts encouraging them to make personal injury claims under the promise of no financial risk. Some argue that the introduction of this law has created a compensation culture similar to that found in America where members of the public attempt to claim compensation for miniscule and insignificant accidents. But what’s the truth behind these claims? Below is an explanation of the access to justice act, how it changed the landscape of personal injury claims and whether it has achieved its original aims.
The Law Before
Before 2000 if you’d suffered a work accident, road traffic accident or any injury that wasn’t your fault you could make a personal injury claim. The legal fees would either be met by you or, if you couldn’t afford it, by the government. The government decided that this was costing them too much money so came up with the access to justice solution.
The Introduction of “No Win, No Fee”
It’s a well known phrase but not all people really understand exactly what it means. No win, no fee does not mean no win, no cost incurred. In legal terms it’s known as the Conditional Fee Agreement. A CFA is most basically an agreement where legal fees only become payable in certain circumstances, so in the case of personal injury claims, only if the case is won. In most cases the other party, who has lost the case, will pay the winner’s legal fees so if you’re successful you won’t have to pay out a penny in legal costs.
On top of legal costs, the lawyer will also received an “uplift payment” as a reward for winning. This means that they can afford to lose a few cases as they make more than their legal fees when they win, so they can therefore offer you the “no win, no fee” agreement. If you lose your case, generally speaking, you will not have to pay legal costs.
In some cases however there may be costs incurred by the losing party, like paying the other party’s legal fees and these can fall to you personally. It’s imperative then that you communicate clearly and frequently with your lawyer and ask them thorough questions to clarify exactly what your position will be in all the potential outcomes of you claim.
Lawyers obviously want to win cases, so often won’t take on a case that they don’t think will win. If they take on your case then, they think there’s a reasonable enough chance of winning so you won’t have to incur any legal fees.
Has it done what it set out to do?
The clues in the name, the Access to Justice Act aimed to make compensation more accessible to those who are owed it. It’s certainly true that those with genuine compensation claims are more willing to come forward as they now understand that they won’t be at risk if they do so. The problem is many believe it has also encouraged people seeking to “get rich quick” to either make up claims, or put themselves at risk in order to make a case.
Many argue that since lawyers themselves have little interest in taking on cases that won’t win, those trying their luck are turned away at the first post by the people who would represent them. What one could argue however is that certain bodies involved in the PI world are trying to create a compensation culture. Claims management companies encourage people to contact them just to see if they have a case and often end up charging them without providing a proper service.
In October 2011 a law was brought in to prevent the selling of details of people who have been in accidents between companies. We’ve all had the occasional text message telling us we’re entitled to a certain amount of compensation, and if you’re down on money these can be very tempting. The 2011 law is meant to ensure that this practise is wiped out, hopefully bolstering up the good work that no win, no fee can do for the public and ensuring those with genuine compensation claims are no longer exploited.