The other issue Lib Dem peers can win on tomorrow

Moves in the House of Lords to amend the health and welfare bills have been getting the lion’s share of recent coverage, but this week sees a quartet of Liberal Democrat peers leading the charge on a different topic – the Legal Aid Bill.

Lib Dem Lords Thomas, Carlile, Clement Jones and Phillips have a set of amendments down for debate tomorrow to put right what Ken Clarke hasn’t got right in his zeal to end the so-called ‘compensation culture’. The amendments look to tighten up and improve the plans to ban so-called ‘referral fees’ in personal injury cases. Its these fees which are behind ambulance-chasing lawyers encouraging people to put in spurious claims.

As picked up by Kiran Stacey in the FT, the Liberal Democrat peers have tabled amendments to ban law firms from (among other things) sending those annoying unsolicited spam texts and from advertising in hospitals. They also seek to end the reprehensible practice of insurers forcing accident victims to settle for low-level damages without letting them speak to a lawyer, and to protect legitimate routes to justice for genuine accident victims.

There’s a risk the amendments will get squeezed out due to lack of time unless the Lib Dem peers insist on pushing the issue. They should do. It’s an important issue in its own right, the changes will help ensure the legal system is there to help those in need rather than clogged up by profiteers pursuing dodgy claims – and it’s a popular cause with the public to boot.

Here’s hoping tomorrow brings goods news from the Liberal Democrat team in the Lords…

 

Full disclosure: One of the clients of the company that I work for in my day job, National Accident Helpline, has an interest in these issues.

* Mark Pack is Party President and Co-leader of the party. He is editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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5 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 31st Jan '12 - 5:37pm

    I am not sure what you mean by “squeezed out through lack of time”. If they are down they will get debated. It’s committee stage and there don’t seem to be any votes on this Bill and anyway the LDs would not put them to the vote.

    If there is any progress on this issue it is likely to be in discussions with Ministers behind the scenes before Report.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Dawson 31st Jan '12 - 7:23pm

    I do hope that legal aid is kept for CAB work assisting people with benefit tribunal cases. Otherwise, there will be much injustice.

  • Agree fully with Tony Dawson as a member on a local CAB. Agree that some issues identified by our peers may need attention, the main issue (again) is the fact that this bill chops away at any advantages people of small and moderate means may have had.

  • James Sandbach 1st Feb '12 - 3:21pm

    The Bill is at Committee stage – report stage comes later which is when they get to vote on amendments, but at the moment all amendments are “probing” to test the Government line.

    The amendments Mark refers to above are on Part 2 of the Bill – the rules concerning private funding of cases and whether costs can be recovered against wrong-doers, for example in personal injury cases where legal fees are high and there’s been legitimate public concern about marketing practices such as spamming, ambulance chasing claims companies ‘capturing’ claims and selling them to lawyers prepare to pay the most and add that onto their charges etc. It’s good to see our Peers tackling these issues.

    But the sad reality is that Labour created this market by doing away with legal aid for personal injury cases in the first place, and insisting claimants have to use a poorly regulated no-win no fee route. The publicly funded system was actually much cheaper and the legal aid fund nearly always recovered its costs. The abuses of the system and overcharging has been massive. Frankly it’s been one of these markets where misselling (eg of after the event insurance policies) has been endemic – and it’s injured victims who have been the target.

    What our Peers should really be reflecting on is how they intend to vote on Part 1 which removes legal aid from many more (nearly all in fact) areas of civil law redress and advice services – it doesn’t take a crystal ball to work out that this is opening up a market for all manner of grubby legal advice, debt management, claims companies, and after the event social or payment ‘protection’ insurance products to ply their trade – ‘helping’ desperate people recover state benefits for example by taking 60% of them.

    As Tony Dawson has said, isn’t it better that we fund CABx and non-profit agencies to do this work which are well trusted in established communities, rather than taking all legal aid funding away from these agencies so that many will have to close (they are not viable as commercial entities as they don’t charge clients)?

    Interested in the other Tony’s (Greaves) take on the Bill..

  • James Sandbach 1st Feb '12 - 3:26pm

    PS for other threads on the Legal Aid proposals see

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/tag/legal-aid

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