Writing in the Guardian in 2016, England’s most senior judge, said that the system had become unaffordable to most. Here are the facts. In 2009-10, more than 470,000 people received advice or assistance for social welfare issues. By 2013-14, the year after the Tory government’s reforms to legal aid came into force, that number had fallen to less than 53,000 – a drop of nearly 90%. The tory government has closed advice centres and fees have been increased beyond the resources of most. The ‘exceptional funding scheme’ for the most vulnerable has helped only eight children.
In the same year, the Fabian Society reported on the ‘THE CRISIS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IN ENGLAND AND WALES’. In a wide-ranging reported on six key features of the English justice system which undermine its ability to provide justice for all:
- Fewer people can access financial support for a legal case
- Exceptional case funding has failed to deliver for those in need
- Public legal education and legal advice are inadequate and disjointed
- High court and tribunal fees are preventing people pursuing legal claims
- Bureaucracy in the Legal Aid Agency is costly and time-consuming
- Out of date technologies keep the justice system wedded to the past
In an effort to ensure none of this applies in Scotland, legislation to make civil justice more affordable and accessible for all was published yesterday in the Scottish Parliament.
These are the key features:
- make the cost of court action more predictable at the outset
- for the first time allow solicitors, as well as claims management companies, to offer damages based agreements which are a form of ‘no win, no fee’ agreement where the fee is calculated as a percentage of the damages recovered
- introduce a sliding cap mechanism to make the legal fees in such cases more predictable
- protect people from facing a large expenses bill if they do not win personal injury claims
- enable groups of people to sue in the civil courts where they have the same or a similar claim against the same defender or defenders. Under current Scots law, such cases have to be pursued separately
Once more, today, I find myself reporting on a Government with the interests of the public at heart and not just, as in England, those of the rich and powerful. Scottish voters need to remember the failures in England are the work of Ruth Davidson’s colleagues. Presumably she will vote for the Scottish bill and annoy Theresa again?