According to a number of newspaper reports a ruling in Naomi Campbell’s claim against the Mirror Group Newspapers by the European Court of Human Rights could 'kill success fees'.
The Insurance Times for instance celebrates the possibility of insurers 'saving millions' in what would appear to be another victory for the power of the insurance industry over the wronged individual. Mark Twain is reported to have said, 'Rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated'. Let us hope the same applies here.
In fact the Court recognised that 'no win no fee' agreements, under which success fees are payable by the party at fault to the victims of injustice were there to increase access to justice. They enabled people for whom there was no legal aid and who could not afford legal fees nevertheless to enforce their rights.
In the Court’s words they were designed 'to ensure the widest possible public access to legal services for civil litigation, including to people who would not otherwise be able to afford a lawyer.'
Two factors made the Naomi Campbell case exceptional.First, her damages were £3,500 where the costs of her appeal to the House of Lords alone exceeded £365,000. Costs were therefore wholly disproportionate to damages. Secondly she was someone who could afford legal representation without a 'no win no fee' agreement. This was therefore an exceptional case.
The government seems keen to support the insurance industry position and restrict the recovery of success fees for Claimants who establish that they have been wronged. The effect would be to prevent people from ever recovering compensation in full and to restrict access to justice for many victims.
It is important to realise that system is under threat and that the people who will lose out are ordinary individuals seeking redress for wrong.
Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.