District judges “told to be strict” over costs budgeting

Scott-Moncrieff: one-sided debate

District judges have been instructed to be strict on enforcing compliance with budgets, it has emerged.

The news comes from the Law Society’s civil justice committee, which is also planning to investigate the feasibility of a conditional legal aid fund, possibly involving third-party funding.

According to the recently released minutes of the committee’s February meeting, representatives held a separate meeting with the Association of District Judges. The judges reported that they are being “urged to be strict on enforcing compliance with budgets; and that courts were unlikely to be concerned about client costs and would not interfere with budgets agreed between the two sides”.

The committee is meeting again today and will be presented with its work plan as approved by the society’s legal affairs and policy board. This includes reference to a review of the feasibility of ‘CLAF and third-party funding’, a report on which should be completed by the end of 2013. The Law Society declined to provide any more details.

The work plan also talked about further work to lobby both the UK and EU “against the manipulation of the market by insurers in respect of legal expenses insurance/freedom of choice of solicitor and third-party capture”. It also said that six new Law Society practice notes relating to the 1 April reforms are due out this month.

The work plan indicates that the committee’s ambitions are to some extent restricted by only have one dedicated policy adviser working at Chancery Lane to help push its work forward.

Meanwhile, the Law Society has told the transport select committee – whose call for evidence as part of its whiplash investigation closed yesterday – that “this is a debate in which all too often the perspective of only a single side − the insurers – is heard”.

In a letter to committee chair Louise Ellman MP, Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff asserted that government proposals to increase the small claims limit in personal injury cases largely stem from propaganda generated by insurers.

The committee will soon decide from whom it will take oral evidence and Ms Scott-Moncrieff told Ms Ellman: “Such a one-sided debate has the potential to distort the facts leading to, in the society’s view, ill-considered and disproportionate policy-making. I very much hope, therefore, that your committee is able to hear from all sides, including the solicitors’ profession, during the course of your inquiry.”