Legal aid:value for money

In the year 1997-98 the Legal Aid Board (LAB) paid out u323m to fund personal injury actions (including medical negligence). For that money it advised and assisted 75,000 individual cases.
Of that, u245m was paid to non-medical negligence cases with the final bill for the public purse amounting to u37.1m – the equivalent of two Alan Shearers or a US stealth bomber. If those comparisons seem frivolous, it is important to put into context the actual cost to the taxpayer of the system which is now to be handed over to the discretion of the insurance industry and conditional fee agreements. Only 15 per cent of the total u245m paid out didn't come back as successful litigants repaid the legal aid – which allowed them to prosecute their cases – after winning their actions.
So 85 per cent of the initial outlay has been returned. It would be surprising if an insurance-based system – fighting some of the complex and costly cases highlighted by The Lawyer – could see such a return on its investment. Common sense dictates that lawyers acting on a conditional fee basis will take less risks with cases if their businesses are put on the line. The priority of the insurance industry is to make a profit and some of these cases would not be immediately profitable.
There are already conditional fee agreements in personal injury cases. But in the three years they have been operating, the overwhelming burden for personal injury cases has remained on legal aid. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers estimates that at least 75 per cent of personal injury cases are still fought through legal aid. The total legal aid expenditure for personal injury cases rose 56 per cent in the four years since 1994-95 – the first year that the LAB published a breakdown of its figures. But the growth appears to have peaked and rose by only seven per cent between 1997 and 1998.