Former Paralympian leads last-ditch campaign against controversial legal aid cuts
Tuesday 06 March 2012
Former Paralympics champion, Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, will tomorrow lead a last ditch attempt to overturn controversial plans to stop legal aid for all victims of clinical negligence apart from cases involving brain damaged babies.
The government can expect tough cross-bench opposition in the House of Lords amid claims that the proposed cuts are discriminatory, and that they will lead to millions of pounds being shifted to the NHS. It is one of the most contentious aspects of government plans to slash £350m for the legal aid bill.
Ministers had proposed to completely remove clinical negligence from within the scope of legal aid, but last week conceded that babies with brain injuries caused by negligence in the first eight weeks of life would still qualify.
But campaigners insist that the age restriction is spurious as catastrophic, life-changing injuries can occur at any point of a person’s life.
Rebecca Glansbury, 17, from Nottinghamshire, suffered brain damage as a result of failures by a GP to spot a hypoglycaemic attack, and a subsequent failure by a hospital to diagnose chicken pox which led to spinal cord damage and paraplegia. The nightmare happened when Rebecca was two years old which means she would not qualify for legal aid under the proposed rules.
It took 14 years of legal battles and several expensive expert medical reports for this complex case to be resolved. Rebecca’s parents and their solicitors would not have afforded the cost of the investigations required before the defendants settled the claim.
The compensation means that Rebecca, a feisty, social, sporty teenager, will eventually be able to live semi-independently in an adapted home with help from carers. She will not be dependent on her parents or the state for her future.
Baroness 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. The case for retaining legal aid is overpowering and I am hopeful the amendment in my name will prevail.”
Peter Walsh from Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) said: "The current proposals are incoherent and grossly unfair. What kind of society would deny access to justice to any child severely disabled due to perfectly avoidable medical errors, or indeed frail elderly people who suffer negligence or neglect of the kind we saw at Mid Staffordshire and elsewhere?"
Other proposed amendments include legal aid being retained only for negligence claims involving children; scrapping the proposal that 25 per cent of legally aided damages are paid to the Ministry of Justice and another which keeps legal aid for medical expert reports which cost thousands of pounds.
Peers and campaign groups such as Sound off for Justice have raised concerns about an apparent failure by the MoJ to have carried out a full impact assessment of the proposed legal aid cuts. Research by King’s College London found cutting access to legal aid for family law, welfare benefits and clinical negligence cases will lead to at least £139m in unintended costs to other government departments.
A MoJ spokesman said ‘exceptional funding’ would be available for the most serious cases and where there was a risk of breaching human rights. “Victims will still have access to solicitors through 'no win-no fee' deals, which the Government is reforming. We are making special arrangements so people will be able to insure themselves against the cost of reports if they lose. Importantly, in most cases victims will not have to meet the other side's costs if they lose.”
On Monday the government suffered three defeats to its Legal Aid and Sentencing of Prisoners and Offenders Bill which included peers voting for domestic violence to be spared from the cuts. This, along with the NHS and Social Care Bill, is one of the most controversial bills proposed by the coalition.
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