Mixed reaction to changes to ‘no win, no fee’ civil cases

Lord Justice Jackson’s report into civil courts and claims has been heavily criticised by many parties, including leading compensation claims company, NoWinNoFeeClaims.co, since it was published in 2009. Adopted by the government after protracted Parliamentary debate, the changes will come into force in April 2013.

CFAThe Jackson Reforms are concerned with civil courts, and Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) cases in particular. Better known as ‘no win, no fee’ cases, traditionally it was the defendant who paid the solicitor’s fees (the uplift fees) and the cost of the insurance premium (usually taken out by the claimant to pay the defendant if the claimant loses). The claimant was allowed to keep all the damages awarded. Under the reforms, such fees would be the burden of the claimant, solicitors would only be allowed to claim up to 25% of any settlement in fees, and damages would rise by 10%, amongst other reforms.

The reception has been varied and heated. Many say that the increased risk of losing a civil case will deter people going to court and seeking justice. The higher fees and risk will effectively deny the application of justice, to those who cannot afford it and allow tortfeasors (civil wrongdoers) to escape prosecution. This will effect personal injury claims the worst- and have an impact for solicitors.

Fewer lawyers will be able to offer ‘no win, no fee’ cases, or will be enticed into taking up some civil cases. According to Muiris Lyons, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), ‘solicitors will be less able to offer a CFA to someone whose claim is complex, meritorious, and difficult to win’. Specialist legal insurers will also be affected- but also admit that, with fewer cases, premiums will fall.

Alternatively, however, according to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures and press releases,  the reforms will help the civil courts procedures, and will be complemented by a review of the civil and county courts. The reforms will encourage more cases to be settled out of court, and more mediation to occur. Increased mediation will free up court time- and prove less costly and time consuming for both parties than a court cases. This view is shared by many, with supporters adding that it is only personal injury, and small claimants, who will be affected the most. Supporters claim that medium to large businesses and larger, complex claims will remain relatively unaffected by the reforms, and welcome the increased emphasis on mediation (which is more cost effective, and ensures a guaranteed settlement) as opposed to court cases.

It is uncertain, and debatable, as to exactly what affect the changes will have. Both supporters and critics are in agreement, though, that further change of the civil courts is necessary to deliver justice effectively. Indeed, as former Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said, ‘with no major reform for 15 years, the civil justice system has got out of kilter.’

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