Campaigners yesterday welcomed the government’s announcement that it is to drop the supplementary legal aid scheme (SLAS), which would have taken 25% of damages from those cases still eligible for legal aid next year, such as claims on behalf of brain-damaged babies.
Under the SLAS, 25% of all damages successfully claimed, other than damages for future care and loss, were to be recovered by the legal aid fund. The government estimated that this would raise £7m for the fund.
A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman said: “Having carefully considered the views expressed in a recent stakeholder engagement exercise, ministers have decided not to proceed with implementation of the proposed supplementary legal aid scheme in April 2013.”
However, it is understood that the SLAS will remain one of the options for further legal aid savings at some point in the future if required.
A spokesman for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said: “We welcome the decision by the MoJ as the proposals for a fixed levy were unfair and flawed. The risks are not the same in every case and the proposals for conditional fee agreements (CFAs) and damages-based agreements are to limit the deduction from damages to a maximum 25%.
“If implemented, the levy would have been detrimental to some of the most vulnerable people in society and it's only right that all innocent victims of injury are compensated as fully and fairly as possible.”
Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) said it had warned the MoJ that it was considering a judicial review of the SLAS. Chief executive Peter Walsh said: “We are grateful to the new ministers at the MoJ for recognising the gross unfairness and irrationality of their predecessors’ plans.
“We hope that this more enlightened approach will lead to further changes to protect access to justice for victims of clinical negligence. It beggars belief that their predecessors were prepared to raid the damages of children brain-damaged by clinical negligence to subsidise their department.”
The 25% cap aligned the SLAS with the Jackson reforms, meaning legal aid was no more attractive than CFAs or other forms of funding. The MoJ had said it expected market forces to encourage solicitors to charge success fees of less than 25% when acting under CFAs.