Legal aid system changes may bar personal injury claims

One barrister in Northern Ireland recently remarked that a proposed series of legal aid system changes could bar personal injury claim victims from legal recourse if they suffer from an accident claim.

The Department of Justice is looking for ways to reduce the costs associated with the legal aid system, which allows people seeking to pursue injury claims to procure free legal representation.

Stormont’s Justice Committee was recently told by Dermot Fee QC that a relatively small proportion of legal aid funding is actually spent on personal injury compensation cases.

Mr Fee stated that there will be no alternative for those suffering from serious accident claims if the access to justice is not made available through the legal aid system.

One such alternative that Mr Fee suggested was instituting litigation funding agreements, allowing insurance companies to directly finance the system.

The draft of the Justice Bill would see the Legal Services commission establishing or funding services under such an agreement.  This would allow litigants to pursue such cases that involved money damages (such a personal injury claims) without making them liable for costs in the event their case was not successful.

If their case did meet with success however either a portion of their monetary award, a success fee levied on the losing side, or some combination of both would be paid into a specialised fund designed to aid in meeting the cost of legal fees in cases that turn out to be unsuccessful.

However Mr Fee, a spokesman for the barristers’ Bar Council, insisted that risks would only rise from adopting such a scheme.

Mr Fee added that the actual result will be to prevent the legitimately  injured from gaining access to justice.

He also added that the costs of legal aid for civil cases was rather small, numbering from £1 million for £2 million for personal injury cases.

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