Write to: The Editor, The Lawyer, 50 Poland Street, London W1V 4AX, Fax 0171 734 0534
Access to the legal system is barred to the vast majority of the population. Only the very poor or the very rich have the means to litigate. So it is heartening for the unrepresented masses to see that alternative methods of funding litigation are beginning to develop.
The recent report by the Policy Studies Institute shows that conditional fees have, in general, been a success story, despite the fact it also reveals that solicitors' ability to assess risk may be slightly suspect.
Further, the Government's indication that "no win no fee" may be extended to all areas of civil justice is particularly good news for potential litigants (although rumours are beginning to circulate that personal injury may be removed from legal aid funding, which, if true, would be extremely alarming).
The issue of funding litigation is an extremely important one for society. It calls for imaginative solutions which are not simply based on cost issues. Contingency fees may be one answer and the introduction of these has not been ruled out. Although there are major reservations about US-style fees, it is vital that this option is fully explored.
While it is not in the best interests of the UK to encourage the degree of litigation currently prevalent in the US, and certainly not in the interests of justice in general, it is nonetheless important to give everyone in society a fair chance of gaining access to the system.
Equally, there is a place for innovative insurance schemes such as LawAssist, the "after-the-event" scheme which provides affordable justice for most types of civil litigation, and other similar schemes.
Getting the balance right and creating a sensible method of funding is a key part of any legal system and the more options available to the client, the better.