This briefing paper, by lawyer and medical practitioner Anthony Barton, argues that both the legal aid and the Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) systems are flawed in that they give rise to situations which are not economically sustainable or politically acceptable. This paper suggests scrapping civil legal aid in almost all cases, and reforming the CFA system to deter risk-free speculative litigation.
Up to now, access to justice has been the privilege of the wealthy and the minority who are sufficiently poor to qualify for civil legal aid. Most other people had no access to civil justice, a factor which has brought the civil justice system into disrepute. The government is presently undertaking a major and long-overdue reform of the civil legal aid system in accordance with the Access to Justice Act 1999. Reforms enacted on 1 April 2000 abolish legal aid for most civil claims. Instead, it is expected that cases will be funded by the conditional fee system - popularly known as "no win, no fee". In this system the lawyer agrees with his client to charge an additional success fee if the claim is successful, but may charge nothing if the claim fails. It is an example of payment by result. These reforms effectively represent the privatisation of access to justice. The civil courts are increasingly accessible to anyone with a meritorious claim.