The Blunder of Recent Civil Law Reforms

Recent reforms in the UK civil justice system have regrettably limited access to justice for many. Reforms to court structure and procedure, although well intentioned, have in many cases made court proceedings more onerous and complex, despite being intended to produce the opposite effect. As such, many are deterred from seeking a legal remedy. Further, the former Coalition government oversaw a slow but subtle increase in court fees- a programme which is set to continue under the current Conservative government.

Other legal reforms have seen a greater emphasis on seeking arbitration, or seeking pre- trial settlements, agreements and resolutions. Although designed to free up court time, and to reduce the caseload on courts and the legal system, such an emphasis has actually been welcomed by many legal practitioners, and has seen justice been achieved in many cases without recourse to the courts. However, increasing arbitration can be seen to have the effect of denying people access to a court to obtain a legal hearing.

The reform that has given rise to the most outrage and concern has been the infamous Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) (LASPO). Under LASPO, legal aid was all but cut in most sectors of the law. With no legal aid, the cost of going to court had to be carried by the parties involved. Together with rising courts fees, and all the incidental expenses of the law, the price of getting justice rose to a level that is well beyond the means of the average household in the UK- and there is now no legal aid to pick up the costs. Overnight, access to justice became the privilege of the rich, and not the right of the people. Additionally, law centres and law firms have had to close or merge over recent years. Alternatively, lawyers and the courts have had to be creative as regards fees and funding legal cases.

One such example is the sector of personal injury (PI). Although much derided and often mocked, the PI sector was able to weather the legal reforms and LASPO. As regards funding, many PI cases have been funded since 1998 under Conditional Fee Agreements (CFA). Under a CFA, litigants only pay for their legal representation and work on the understanding that your case will be won, and compensation awarded. You do not pay if your case is unsuccessful. Although 2013 saw the regulations and details regarding CFA’s change to take into account changes on the law and legal system, the essential elements of such funding arrangements remains the same.

Consequently, those seeking justice for a personal injury, regardless of the legal reforms of recent years, are still able to get access to justice due to CFA’s. Such personal injuries could arise from anything, such as an accident at home, on the road, or even being injured at work.

Indeed, in 2014/5, the HSE saw nearly 80,000 cases of workspace injuries reported via RIDDOR in the UK, of varying severity, with a Labour Force Survey seeing 629,000 injuries at work. Although litigation may well be the last thing on an employee’s mind following a workplace injury – PI cases, funded by CFA’s, are still very much affordable for the average household, PI is one sector were people can still very much obtain access to justice, an apology, and compensation. Despite legal reforms, it is still very possible to obtain justice following a personal injury, arising from a workplace injury, or elsewhere.

Indeed, the relevant legislation concerning accident at work places great burdens and responsibility on employers regarding workplace accidents and injuries. Further, it is the injured parties legal right to seek justice and compensation they so desire- a course of action which many in the legal sector recommend. Also, the law affords you rights and protections from employers while you make such legal claims.

Other areas of the law have similarly had to adapt in the face of such reforms to the justice system – with mixed results. Amidst public funding cuts, access to justice has been increasingly limited. However, the legal sector is evolving to tackle that, and continues to fight the damaging reforms.