In recent times there has been no other profession which has been hit harder with major changes and cuts than the legal profession. Access to justice has been stripped away from the consumer in the form of legal aid cuts, increase to the small claims track limit in civil claims and the dramatic changes brought about by the Jackson reforms. The by-product of these changes has made it very difficult for people to afford legal advice which in turn has seen an upturn in the amount of solicitors practices shutting down.
So how can a consumer access justice?
The costs of litigation are soaring. The introduction of costs budgets has provided the temptation for parties to inflate their costs estimates. This is because of the real threat of lawyers not being able to claim the “actual” costs of running the claim in the event that they obtain a costs order against the other party. This can have a dramatic effect on the decisions of parties or their respective insurers on how they litigate the claim.
My own experience of the recent costs changes has seen a dramatic increase in parties seeking alternative methods of trying to resolve disputes. An effective way of dealing with disputes could be by the parties agreeing to attend mediation. Yes, there are costs associated with the mediation but they are likely to be a lot less than pursuing a case to a contested final hearing. An area I specialise in is professional negligence law. I look at all types of professions where consumers feel they may have been let down. By far the most common claims I have dealt with is professional negligence claims against solicitors or surveyors. I have found that mediation in these types of cases can be an effective way of reaching a resolution between the parties and thus minimising the legal costs for all concerned. In cases where the mediation has been successful it avoids the need for the parties to attend Court and give evidence which can be a difficult experience for some individuals and professionals.
It is true to a certain extent that access to justice has been diminished substantially over the last few years but thankfully with the introduction to fixed fees and alternative methods of litigation there may well be still “light” for the people that really need legal advice but do not have the funds to seek justice.
By Liam Waine, Partner and dispute resolution solicitor
Stephensons Solicitors LLP dispute resolution team offer a 30 minute consultation for a fixed fee of £49.95.