14:44, August 01 351 0 theguardian.com

2017-08-01 14:44:02
Holiday scams down to cuts to legal aid

False tummy bug and whiplash claims (Why Britain has gone wild for holiday sickness scams, G2, 1 August) are a direct result of the withdrawal in the 1990s of legal aid from personal injury work, and the creation of the whole money-spinning “no-win, no-fee” nuisance claim business. Legally aided personal injury claims were only funded by the then legal aid board if they met strict criteria for legal merit. As a result they were cost neutral for the taxpayer because the losing party was obliged to pay costs. The idea of taking this out of legal aid was promoted by a Conservative government oblivious to the need to keep legal aid within general legal practice and to maintain and subsidise a broad spectrum of legal assistance for people who were financially barred from enforcing their rights in the courts.

Shutting down access to the courts is not the answer, as those with legitimate but more difficult cases are prevented from gaining compensation for genuine injury. Insurance companies are not interested in supporting them, and strong opponents can use their wealth to make the litigation process as difficult and expensive as possible. This is yet more proof that “markets” are no substitute for the fast vanishing independent lawyer, available to people who can’t stretch to paying court and legal fees.

The liberalisation of conveyancing, similarly driven by market ideology, has underpinned disasters such as the current leasehold houses scandal. Where were the independent, objective lawyers when these properties were sold? Many of them have gone out of business because of cuts to public subsidy in other areas of their work and reported undercutting by conveyancers taking agents’ referrals en masse. As the supreme court strikes down the government imposed four-figure fee for applicants to the employment tribunal (introduced apparently to help employers escape the burdens of litigation), are we finally turning back to the road to making the real, independent legal professions accessible to the just about managing?

Sally Hughes


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