Letter: Medical litigation and legal aid

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The Independent Online
From Dr Anthony Barton

Sir: Lord Woolf's inquiry Access to Justice now turns to the difficulties of medical litigation.

Most medical and drug claims are legally aided. The Legal Aid Board usually relies on the advice of plaintiff lawyers in deciding whether to fund a claim. Such advice is not independent, as the lawyers have a pecuniary interest in advancing the case. The success rate of medical claims is only 12 per cent (according to the Board) and negligible for drug claims.

Legal aid encourages lawyers to speculate with public funds in the name of justice to such little benefit for patients, and with apparently scant regard for the merits of the case or the quality of representation. Scarce funds are diverted from medical care to irrecoverable legal costs. Too often lawyers are the only beneficiaries.

The grant of legal aid must be based on independent advice if medical litigation is not to be a self-serving industry for lawyers at the expense of patients.

Yours faithfully,

Anthony Barton

London, N1

25 January