The logical alternative to ‘no win, no fee,’ obviously, is ‘no fee, no win,’ which translates in the real world into ‘no fee, no justice.’ Ken Clarke’s closely guarded plans to end success fees and allow lawyers to demand a share of the damages rightfully due to successful claimants will hurl the pieces of the civil litigation board game heedlessly skyward to come down who knows where.
Andrew Dismal of superhero vigilante squad Access to Justice Action Group reckons he has a pretty good idea how things will fall out. Lawyers aren’t going lift a finger for a (possible) 25% of damages, so legions of the unjustly wronged must learn to live with disappointment, bereft of all hope of redress. The government, Dismal claims, is trying to turn us into Scotland, which, “pro rata has 25% fewer claimants, denied access to justice as they cannot afford it.”
The only people who will benefit from these rushed-through inadequately debated changes are the insurers who currently pick up the tab for all those success fees. The 20 big insurers, Dismal claims, “will be laughing all the way to the bank” where they will no doubt form a chuckling hand-rubbing queue as their lunch-hour minutes tick away. Small businesses will also be hit, he says, as well as “some of the poorest people in the world,” as hard-hearted lawyers turn their noses up at worthy but unprofitable human rights and environmental cases against “some of the richest multinationals.”
There are even fears that, with the bottom falling out of the ‘no win, no fee’ racket, legal firms may turn to more serious forms of organized crime.
But Ken Clarke is adamant that a system where unscrupulous lawyers make frivolous accusations and legal fees can outweigh damages has to change and – as with the NHS, education, policing etc – the government is determined to give things a vigorous shake and see if they get better. The good news for the lawyers is that Clarke is planning to artificially inflate damages by 10% so there will be a bit more from which to take a cut.
“The ordinary man or woman has a mortal dread of the existing system,” Clarke told the BBC’s Today programme. “People turn pale if you tell them they should go to a lawyer,” he observed. This, it seems, is as it should be. Legal costs, whilst reasonable, he went on to declare, should be sufficiently high for people to view going to court as a “last resort.”
Quite so. It’s all very nice, this justice, but have you seen the prices?