The Law Society has asked the government to give lawyers 18 months to prepare for fixed costs in clinical negligence work, it has emerged.
It comes as uncertainty remains over if and when the reforms to personal injury (PI) claims will move forward.
Litigation Futures understands that the clinical negligence reforms will be going ahead, but there has been no word on what is happening with the increase in the small claims limit for PI and end to general damages for soft-tissue injuries since the end of the government lockdown for the EU Referendum.
Confirming our story from May, chief executive Catherine Dixon’s report to today’s Law Society council meeting said Chancery Lane has been working with the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers and the charity Action against Medical Accidents to develop a scheme for fixed costs for claims up to £25,000.
The Department of Health is likely to put forward a threshold of £100,000 or £250,000.
Ms Dixon added: “I have also written to [health minister] Ben Gummer, asking for the implementation date for the expected new fixed costs scheme for clinical negligence cases to be set at 18 months after decisions on the detail of the scheme.”
As Legal Futures revealed in January, the society is working with APIL and the Motor Accident Solicitors Society on the PI reforms.
Ms Dixon said that “in advance of the consultations, I have written to [civil justice minister] Lord Faulks, setting out alternatives to the government’s personal injury proposals, including measures that insurers could take to tackle fraud”.
However, the Law Society has not yet decided whether it will run a public campaign over either issue.
Ms Dixon’s report said the society “will shortly be launching an Access to Justice Campaign, with an overall goal of improving access to justice in England and Wales”.
This will be delivered by means of a series of sub-campaigns on specific issues – first on advice deserts on the back of data emerging from the Legal Aid Agency showing that in one-third of the agency’s procurement areas (generally counties outside the big cities and boroughs within them), there was only one housing provider, and in three there were none at all.
“We will be seeking to persuade the MoJ to review the economic sustainability of civil legal aid, and to address issues of sustainability in the design of the tendering process and contracts for the next round of civil legal aid contracting,” she wrote.
In the autumn the society will publish a report, LASPO Three Years On.
Subsequent sub-campaigns being considered would be on the need for early advice, and the position of children and young people.
“We are continuing to monitor developments in respect of the government’s proposals on personal injury and clinical negligence, so that if and when they require a campaigning approach, work plans can be developed for them. We are also considering how pro bono might fit into the messaging within the campaigns.”
The report also said that there have now been two meetings of a joint working group between the Law Society, Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives over the viability of introducing a contingency legal aid fund (CLAF), as called for by Lord Justice Jackson earlier this year.
Ms Dixon said: “The group is seeking to identify the most promising areas where a CLAF might have a role to play. If the group concludes that there are no areas that appear sufficiently promising, it will report accordingly.
“If areas are identified where a CLAF could have a useful role, the group will undertake further work to establish whether an economically viable model can be set up.”
The report also revealed that the Law Society is developing a pro bono manual and charter for launch in National Pro Bono Week in November.
“Additionally, the Law Society will be meeting with members of the City of London Law Society, the Civil Justice Council, the advice sector and other stakeholders, at a roundtable in July to discuss a profession wide pro bono strategy within the current political and legal context.”
The reforms and how the profession should respond to them will be the subject of debate at this year’s PI Futures conference on 22 September in Liverpool. See here for full details.