UK

Scrap civil legal aid, says Adam Smith Institute

The Ministry of Justice
Image caption The Ministry of Justice has begun a review of its legal aid system

Legal aid should be scrapped for almost all civil compensation cases, a right-wing think tank has argued.

The Adam Smith Institute said the current system and no-win no-fee deals were biased towards claimants and offered "dubious value for money".

It said the UK's "compensation culture" encouraged people to make claims effectively risk-free.

Ministers said no-win no-fee deals had made justice more accessible, but high costs were now of "serious concern".

The Adam Smith Institute (ASI) called for the launch of a new system within the no-win no-fee framework, which included a cap on the costs recoverable from unsuccessful defendants.

'Fundamentally flawed'

Executive director Tom Clougherty said: "The current system of civil litigation in the UK is unfairly stacked in favour of claimants.

"We need to address the risk-free, compensation culture and the excessive costs it brings with it.

"The reforms we've proposed will save the taxpayer money while also ensuring a system of funding access to justice that is simple, robust and fair."

The ASI report said the UK's over-generous legal aid system was "fundamentally flawed" as the bias in favour of claimants encouraged speculative litigation.

It called for a cap on lawyers' success fees and so-called after-the-event (ATE) premiums - insurance taken out on the risk of paying opponent's legal costs.

It argued that capping costs would also deter claimants from bringing weak, low-risk cases, while preserving access to justice in the absence of civil legal aid.

However, the Children's Legal Centre said the ASI was wrong to call for civil legal aid to be scrapped.

System review

Kirsten Anderson, the charity's head of research, policy and communications, said: "Children need free, high-quality legal representation to pursue claims for compensation where they have suffered harm or a violation of their rights.

"Legal aid is the best and fairest way to ensure that all children have access to justice.

"While the entire legal profession is in agreement that the legal aid system needs reviewing, it would be wrong to take away access to justice for the country's young people."

The Ministry of Justice said it had announced the start of a "fundamental" look at the legal aid system to "innovate" and provide value for money.

A spokesman said no-win no-fee style arrangements had played a role in giving access to justice to a range of people.

But he added: "High costs under the existing arrangements have now become a serious concern.

"We will be consulting on how to achieve significant costs savings, whilst still enabling those who need access to justice to obtain it."

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