Clinical Negligence: Legal Aid Bill falters in the House of Lords

9 March 2012

The highly controversial Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has suffered some defeats in the House of Lords this week. The Bill is borne out of the government’s aim to save £350m from the Ministry of Justice budget by 2015 and originally aimed to cut all Legal Aid funding for victims of medical negligence.

Last week the Ministry of Justice conceded that babies with brain injuries caused by clinical negligence in the first 8 weeks of life would still qualify for Legal Aid. This proposed age restriction has been heavily criticised; crossbencher and former Paralympic champion, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said: “It is arbitrary and unfair to distinguish between children injured as a result of injury at birth and other children with severe injuries due to clinical negligence, or indeed adults whose lives have been ruined. Everyone deserves access to justice.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson this week led a last-ditch attempt to completely overturn the controversial plans and bring all medical accident claims back within the scope of Legal Aid.  Regrettably, this motion was very narrowly defeated in the House of Lords; however, some amendments to the Bill have been supported.

Amongst other motions relating to domestic violence and welfare benefits, the House of Lords backed a significant amendment that would allow the costs of experts’ reports in clinical negligence proceedings, which can be considerable, to be covered by Legal Aid funding.

These recent concessions are welcome but still fail adequately to protect access to justice for the victims of clinical negligence. Kingsley Napley’s clinical negligence lawyers support the campaigns led by the Law Society and the charity, Action Against Medical Accidents, against the Bill, which will reach Report Stage in the House of Lords on Monday 12 March 2012.

 

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