A legally qualified Lord Chancellor would not have put in place the recent personal injury changes and court fee reform proposals, the new president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has claimed.
John Spencer told last week’s APIL annual conference in Newport that it was “a sad day when lord chancellors stopped being legally qualified”.
He said: “While there is no doubt that legally trained lord chancellors haven’t always got it right in the past, I find it hard to believe that a lawyer would have allowed the relentless de facto attack on injured people and indifference to access to justice we’ve seen over recent years.
“And I really find it hard to believe a Lord Chancellor with a grounding in the law would ever countenance the suggestion that court fees should actually generate profit in civil cases, as has been suggested in a recent government consultation.”
Mr Spencer said he hoped this proposal is “allowed to run into the ground”, adding: “Justice for government profit rather than justice at cost is a line which should not be crossed. The government should be ashamed of itself for contemplating it.”
Mr Spencer – who is the first APIL president to have previously been chairman of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society – also urged practitioners to take a step back from the business of law to ensure they do not forget why they became PI lawyers in the first place.
Recalling his own career, he said that “somewhere along the line I realised I’d majored on being a businessman”.
He continued: “I became embroiled in ambitious plans for business growth and was immersed in that, and so focused on the daily work of making a practice grow that I forgot what really mattered. But then I had an opportunity for a rethink – to stop and take stock. I knew I wanted to build something more worthwhile – a professional, ethical practice which put the vulnerable, the injured person, at its centre.”
In a combative speech, Mr Spencer criticised the government and the Association of British Insurers for vilifying injured people and their representatives, using the new mesothelioma scheme as an example.
“Why shouldn’t people with mesothelioma who are forced to use the scheme because their insurers can’t be traced have to give up some of their damages? … Why can’t insurers who’ve taken and invested profits from premiums over decades do the right thing and pass on some of that profit to ensure these people receive 100% of their compensation? It should be socially unacceptable for them even to consider not so doing…
“Political debate during the passage of the Mesothelioma Bill made it very clear that 75% was about the best ‘deal’ the government could get from the insurers. But this shouldn’t be about doing a deal. It should be about doing what’s right.”
Nonetheless, Mr Spencer said he believed “the worst of the reform agenda is behind us”. However, he highlighted a host of issues on which APIL will be campaigning, including improving and widening the law of psychiatric harm after the death or injury of a loved one, and opposing the Medical Innovation Bill, devised by Lord Saatchi.
This seeks to protect doctors from litigation when they use innovative techniques on their patients. “Who could be more vulnerable than some patients in the care of the NHS?” Mr Spencer demanded.
“So how dangerous would it be to remove the protection the law provides for such vulnerable people? … What evidence is there that a cure for cancer has not been found because doctors are so afraid of litigation that they won’t use innovative techniques?”
“It has captured the imaginations of patients who have no idea that it is effectively a license for doctors to play God.”