Claimant representatives have reacted angrily to the government’s decision to press ahead with fixed recoverable costs for clinical negligence cases that settle pre-issue for less than £25,000.
This is despite the Department for Health and Social Care admitting that it had set the costs too low and deciding to increase them for introduction next April.
Jonathan Scarsbrook, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: “The government intends to rush through these plans with little more than six months’ notice, without properly heeding the many warnings from patient representatives that the proposals will impede access to justice for many injured patients.
“While a predictable process with predictable costs could have merit, fixing the costs half-way between that suggested by defendants and that of claimant representatives disregards the experience and expertise of the professionals who will actually carry out the work.
“Getting the costs wrong puts unfair restrictions on patients, bereaved families, and their representatives.”
Mr Scarsbrook criticised ministers for not excluding from the regime either fatal cases – “all cases in which patients have died at the hands of the NHS need more time and greater sensitivity than is afforded by this scheme” – or those involving vulnerable injured patients.
Subjecting the latter to the pared-down process set out in the reforms was “unfair and inconsistent”, he explained. “To try to strike a compromise with a bolt-on of costs is not good enough. Protected parties are excluded from other low-value schemes for good reason.”
Qamar Anwar, managing director of First4Lawyers, said clinical negligence was an area of law where the value of the claim did not necessarily reflect the complexity or demand for specialist legal knowledge.
“While the government says there is no evidence to support the concerns we share that many smaller, specialist firms will exit the market as a result of these reforms, its decision to increase the costs they will receive is a tacit acknowledgement that this is a real risk.
“Will it be enough to ensure access to justice? Will defendant lawyers also meet claimant representatives halfway with a more open and honest approach and commitment to resolving rather than resisting claims where liability is clear?”
Mr Anwar insisted that claimant lawyers were “not opposed to change”; they simply wanted to be paid fairly and to see vulnerable clients get the justice and compensation they deserved, he said, adding: “The government’s priorities seem to be more on how much it can save.”