The Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, hit the nail on the head last week, as he criticised the legal system for failing victims. It is shame for him, however, that the failure has been caused largely by the Government he works for.
Regardless of whether he is talking about the court system or any other area of law, the dramatic cuts that rocked the profession in April 2013 have had a lasting effect on the victims of crime and personal injury ever since.
His predecessor, Chris Grayling did not earn the rather unflattering nickname of ‘failing Grayling’ without good reason. It was his rash decisions as Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary that brought many legal firms to their knees and this in turn cost the victims of injury dearly as they were forced out of the small claims court and into the pockets of the unscrupulous insurance companies.
Last week it was the criminal courts that Mr Gove was discussing as he gets to grip with the job in hand and he was quick to acknowledge that victims of crime had been made to suffer because of the current failings in the courts, saying: “The people who are let down most badly by our justice system are those who must take part of it through no fault of desire of their own – victims and witnesses of crime.”
It is interesting that he rounded this off by saying ‘of crime’, when in reality it extends further to other areas of law.
What about the victims of negligence? Did they ask to be involved in a road traffic accident, caused by the dangerous driving of the defendant? Perhaps they talked their employer in to not providing the correct training on the machinery that took their hand or insisted that they abandoned their duty of care to ensure they could contract asbestos related illnesses, such as Mesothelioma.
The problem is, when it comes to negligence claims, it appears the word accident is taken all too literally when the role of the defendant is taken into account and defended by the Government.
Yes accidents do happen, but they should not be excused as merely that if they could have been avoidable. In many ways negligence of this nature is a crime within itself and those responsible for it should face punishment by redressing the cost of the injury to the innocent victim.
Instead we live in a country that seems hell bent on punishing those who seek legal representation to gain access to the justice they deserve. Legal representation that, not only allows a victim to get a compensation settlement that better suits the cost of their recovery and loss but also strives to help care and rehabilitate the victim by providing access to high quality medical experts and ensuring that, where needed, home amendments can be made to assist the victims recovery.
We also, thanks to Government, now live in a country where the victim is forced to pay for the defendants legal fees out of their settlement, under the blanket that they will receive a 10% uplift to compensate this loss, a figure that in most cases doesn’t come close to doing so.
There are more people now being forced to try to take on the courts themselves because the current system, introduced by the Government, has made it almost impossible for legal firms to offer their services in the small claims court, all because the very same Government swallowed the fictitious claim that there was a ‘compensation culture’ and that rising whiplash claims were causing the spiralling costs of the insurance premium.
But what is fact, backed up and supported by the Government’s own figures, is that whiplash claims are actually at a lower level than they were in 2011 and this drop had begun long before the introduction of LASPO.
There has also been instances where the level of fraudulent claims being made within the profession, which the insurance sector championed as extremely high, were in fact fabrication and a lot lower than they would have you believe.
It was also proven that the practices of the private motor insurance profession was also deemed as unethical, as uncovered by the Channel 4 documentary, Dispatches, which included insurers steering customers into using only their approved body shops, keeping costs as low as possible for not-at-fault accident repairs by cutting corners in order to spare their profits and in the case of not-at-fault accidents, hiking up the price of repairs to exploit rival insurers.
The insurance profession and their representatives have often adopted the moral high ground when it comes to personal injury compensation, making no secret of their will to do-away with legal representation and make damages only rehabilitation based and the Government has continued to buy into their propaganda.
In reality the insurers have fought tooth and nail to protect their profits by obstructing entry into the compensation claims court for the victims and it has had the desired effect.
Mark Fenhalls, from the Criminal Bar Association, outlined the difficulty that the legal industry is now having in encouraging young and talented prospects to consider taking up a career in publicly funded work such as barristers or solicitors. There is more money to be earned in other careers and if the more this continues, the more a career in the legal industry will be seen as a gamble.
It can only be hoped that Michael Gove’s comments are a sign of the Government realising their error, not just in the Criminal Law field but right across the bar and that maybe, just maybe they will begin redressing the balance in the favour of the accident or crime victim by restoring faith in our legal system.