As part of yet another cost-reducing strategy, it appears that the Government is intending to introduce fixed fees for clinical negligence claims, much to the chagrin of legal professionals.
Whilst plans continue to take shape, debate continues whether legal fees for such claims should have a formal limit implemented for claims of up to £100,000 or £250,000. Regardless of the sum which is eventually set, most likely to take effect some time in 2016, it is evident that these further austerity measures from our Government will restrict a claimant’s access to justice.
Officials proposing the changes allege that legal fees are disproportionate and too costly for our health service to pay. With the NHS already suffering from a chronic lack of funding, this argument could possibly bear weight.
However, critics within the legal profession have suggested that there are factors at play here that are unnecessarily driving up legal costs and that these factors are beyond the control of claimants’ solicitors.
For instance, delays by the NHS in admitting liability in cases where a more prompt acceptance would be more
appropriate inevitably result in legal fees increasing.It is also considered that many legal defence teams deliberately delay matters and drag matters out in a possible attempt to make litigation unprofitable.
Both points and their resulting impact on claims are clearly unacceptable to victims of clinical negligence, many of whom have had their lives irreparably damaged by a failure to adhere to a duty of care.
Ultimately, it appears that, once again, the Government, with the admirable aspiration of reducing NHS costs, is at the cusp of introducing heavily-impacting changes upon clinical negligence claims. This may have the desired effect in terms of cost reduction, but it is the injured claimant who will inevitably and invariably suffer. Against the backdrop of other Government ‘reforms’, which have vastly increased court fees for civil cases in general, these fee restrictions, if implemented, will have an undeniable impact upon access to fair and just compensation for victims of health service negligence.
Let us hope that further consultation, and input from the legal profession is sought by the Government regarding how best to tackle the supposed legal costs issue, before these intended changes are formally introduced. Our legal system simply must not continue castigating genuine claimants because their claims are proving more expensive for reasons beyond their and their solicitor’s control.
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