Firms block aid for legal suits

BIG COMPANIES are killing off ordinary people's attempts to sue them by persuading the authorities to refuse financial assistance with the huge cost of the cases, according to lawyers.

The tobacco and drugs industries are among those that have used this tactic to thwart people who claim to have been harmed by their products.

Lawyers say it is increasingly common for powerful companies to lobby the Legal Aid Board in the hope that it will cut off help for groups of plaintiffs.

Although the firms point out that they are legally entitled to make representations, plaintiffs' lawyers say it is tilting the balance against ordinary people. The lawyers also believe that, with ministers calling for cuts in legal aid, the board is 'willing to latch on to any excuse' to refuse assistance.

Concern came to a head recently following an application for legal aid by several hundred people who said their health had been harmed by smoking. The request was turned down after the tobacco industry made extensive representations to the board, saying, in effect, that the claims had no chance of success.

Robin Lewis, a solicitor who represented some of the plaintiffs, said: 'What is uncomfortable is the sight of these companies, which are profitable beyond dreams, objecting to an extremely vulnerable group of elderly and dying people having access to public funds.'

Lawyers have expressed similar anxieties over cases brought by people who say they have become addicted to tranquillisers. Last month, the board suspended legal aid for 1,700 plaintiffs. Their claims against a drug company will only go ahead if they overturn the ruling on appeal.

Again, the board's decision followed representations made by solicitors acting for the multinational company Roche Products. Millions of pounds have already been spent on the case.

Plaintiffs' solicitors say they are effectively having to fight their entire case before the board in order to get help for their clients. While multinationals can draw on deep pockets to pay their lawyers, plaintiffs often have limited resources. Nevertheless, plaintiffs do sometimes obtain legal aid despite opposition from powerful firms.

The London Docklands Development Corporation, for instance, failed to stop residents of the area getting help with their claim for compensation for the noise and dust they say they have had to put up with.

Steve Orchard, chief executive of the Legal Aid Board, strongly denied that his officers were told to turn down potentially expensive cases. 'I can categorically refute that,' he said.

Defendants had always had the right to make representations to the board whatever the case, he said. But 'more issues are looked at more deeply (in group actions) than with a straightforward injury case'.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss