The government have recently made a U-turn on their plans to introduce the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme which would have taken 25% of damages awarded for clinical negligence off victims. The original concept was controversial to say the least, and the back down has been welcomed by a host of legal professionals and organisations.
The original concept
The ministry of justice proposed to bring a new scheme in 2013 which would take 25% of claimants’ medical negligence compensation off them as a blanket rule. The scheme was intended to recoup some of the £2 billion a year spent on legal aid in England and Wales, the majority of which is spent on lawyers defending individuals facing criminal charges. The scheme was designed to make claiming legal aid less attractive thereby further reducing the bill. It would have affected at least 5,000 families each year.
Campaigners claimed the scheme was tantamount to “raiding” funds earmarked for the care of victims of clinical negligence, many of whom who would desperately need the financial assistance compensation would offer to pay for proper care.
Why has the government backed down?
Outcry from campaigners who deemed the scheme as nothing more than using the money of the vulnerable to finance their own department provoked the MoJ into reassessing the proposal. After a “stakeholder engagement exercise” the Ministry of Justice altered their plan, but are still committed to cutting the budget for legal aid. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said,
“At more than £2bn per year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world which in the current financial climate we just cannot continue to afford.
Our reforms target legal aid at the people who need legal support the most, and on the most serious cases. This means taxpayers will know their money is really helping people, and is not fuelling unnecessary legal action. We estimate the legal aid budget will be cut by £320m in 2014/15 as a result of our reforms.” – telegraph.co.uk
Chief executive of patients’ charity Action against Medical Accidents Peter Walsh said:
“We are grateful to the new ministers at the MoJ for recognising the gross unfairness and irrationality of their predecessors’ plans.
We hope that this more enlightened approach will lead to further changes to protect access to justice for victims of clinical negligence. It beggars belief that their predecessors were prepared to raid the damages of children brain-damaged by clinical negligence to subsidise their department.” – lawgazette.co.uk
Changes that will happen
Although the government have decided not to implement the 25% damages change there will be changes to certain aspects of legal aid as follows:
- Community Legal Advice
- Exceptional Cases Funding
The Ministry of Justice have also not ruled out the possibility of introducing the originally proposed changes at a later stage.