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Public funds for a “triage” system of advice will be considered as part a review of legal aid cuts, the lord chancellor told MPs yesterday.
David Lidington, who is also the justice secretary, said that he was about to announce a review of the impact of the reduction of legal aid eligibility under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The cuts have been widely criticised, including by senior judges.
Lidington said that the rise of litigants-in-person in the courts needed to be addressed. “I am not making a promise but I am perfectly willing to look at the argument that there could be a saving of money if we had some kind of triage legal advice up front,” he said.
Another way to tackle the problem would be to reform the courts, he said, adding that systems were being tested where some money claims would not require people to instruct lawyers at all.
He added that legal aid still accounted for a quarter of his department’s budget and stood at some £1.6 billion a year.
The lord chancellor was making his first appearance before the justice committee of the House of Commons since taking up his post. Bob Neill, chairman of the committee, challenged Lidington over the fact that the cuts had led to fewer people resorting to mediation in family law cases rather than the courts.
Neill suggested that that “there was real concern that the cuts had proved to be a false economy”.
The lord chancellor said that the announcement of a review of the cuts was imminent.
Neill also challenged the justice secretary over changes to the way lawyer fees will be calculated for work in the crown courts, saying that the proposals could lead to unjust levels of remuneration.
Personal injury small claims limit will rise to £5,000
The Ministry of Justice will plough on with plans to increase the small claims limit to £5,000 for road traffic accidents and £2,000 for other personal injury claims, the lord chancellor has confirmed to MPs.
Claimant lawyers have objected to the moves, which have been mooted for some time.
“The unfairness inherent in these rises is staggering and does nothing to prevent fraud,” said Qamar Anwar, managing director of First4Lawyers, a claims management referral firm.
“For most people, a claim worth £5,000 is not low value,” he said, arguing that more than 95 per cent of road traffic accident personal injury claims were valued at less than £5,000.
“So the impact could be huge. The reality is that innocent accident victims will be left unrepresented to deal with the insurer’s lawyers, making under-settlements inevitable.”