Last week I joined with colleagues in taking part in the London Legal Walk, an annual 10km sponsored walk through some of central London’s most attractive spots. 5,500 people took part and I have never seen either so many lawyers or so many walking boots.
Judging by the logos on their T shirts they came from private law firms, local authorities, the bar, courts, legal advice centres and even the Law Commission.The walk raised money for various charities providing free legal representation to people who would not otherwise find access to justice. This year’s walk comes at an appropriate time when access to justice is under threat.
Whilst the media has given widespread coverage to proposed changes to our health system, it has largely ignored major changes to our legal system.The restriction of legal aid in civil claims will affect half a million people. Removing legal aid from medical negligence claims will save the government £19 million per year – hardly a great sum. But the people most affected tend to be the most vulnerable – particularly children who need a lifetime of care after suffering disabling brain injuries through negligent care at birth.
At the same time the government proposes to change ‘no win no fee’ funding in a way which will discourage solicitors from taking on the riskier claims and restrict damages available to accident victims.The real saving will not just be lowering the legal aid budget but reducing the amount of damages paid by NHS Trusts to the victims of unnecessary medical accidents by restricting access to justice.
This is a real threat to access to justice is under threat and the Legal Walk comes at the right time.I believe that one of the marks of a decent society is that it promotes access to justice for people who have suffered a legal wrong irrespective of their means. For that reason as I put away my walking boots I welcome the news today that the Law Society’s is urging the Minister of Justice to think again about its damaging proposals.
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, fill in our short online claim form and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.