Family of Cardiff brain injury girl Olivia Collis raise legal aid fears

  • 20 March 2012
  • From the section Wales

The family of a girl who suffered brain injuries after complications before her birth fear changes to the legal aid system will deny others justice.

The parents of Olivia Collis from Cardiff received state support in fighting a medical negligence case.

The UK government wants to save £350m a year on legal aid by 2015 and has proposed limiting access for medical negligence cases.

But it says cases such as eight-year-old Olivia's will not be affected.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill returns to the House of Lords on Tuesday after a series of defeats.

Olivia's mother, Leanne, feels that other families who face years of court proceedings and litigation in medical negligence cases should also be able to call on the state for support.

The Welsh Ambulance Service has admitted partial liability in Olivia's case.

"Without legal aid families are going to be left to fend for themselves," said Mrs Collis.

''When you've got a child which is brain injured - the mother and father have got to take time off work.

"Their financial situation is worse, without legal aid families are going to struggle."

The family is waiting for experts to assess how much care and equipment will be needed to help Olivia in the future, before a final compensation figure is agreed.

Amendments have already been made to the bill which would allow support in obstetric cases of medical negligence.

No win, no fee

But according to solicitor Andrew Davies there is still concern that some child brain injury cases such as Olivia's may not be included.

"I think there is a strong case for arguing that those most vulnerable in society should have the means of bringing their cases through the courts," he said.

"Those cases tend to be the most difficult, tend to be the most costly - and frankly there are few better ways of bringing a case to the court other than with legal aid support."

The bill is aimed at replacing legal aid for clinical negligence cases with a reformed system of no win, no fee arrangements, under which, the government believes more cases will be funded privately, rather than by the taxpayer.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: "At more than £2.1bn per year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world which in the current financial climate we just cannot continue to afford.

Safety net

"Legal aid is an essential part of the justice system, but it is also in urgent need of reform if we are to deliver the modern, efficient justice system we all expect.

"We are clear that clinical negligence claims in obstetrics cases which result in severe disability must receive legal aid.

"We have therefore brought forward an amendment to our bill which will make this clear in law.

"A safety net will continue to exist for other more serious and complex clinical negligence cases where there is a human rights issue."

The spokesperson said 82% of cases were already not funded by legal aid.

"Claimants will also have access to solicitors through 'no win-no fee' deals, which the government is reforming," they added.

"We are making special arrangements so that people will be able to insure themselves against the cost of reports if they lose.

"Importantly, we are also bringing in a rule that will mean, in most cases, victims will not have to meet the other side's costs if they lose."

A Welsh Ambulance Service spokesperson said: "We very much regret the circumstances surrounding this case and reached an agreement with the family in January prior to a court hearing.

"The trust is fully co-operating with the family's legal team to complete clinical and legal discussions to determine the final settlement."

More on this story