No merit in raising limit

Re: "The big issue of small claims" (Viewpoint 27 August).

Raising the small claims limit to £25,000 is not the way to increase access to justice, particularly if the Legal Aid Board persist in their present view that cases being dealt with by arbitration do not merit legal aid. Going to court, whether arbitration or trial, is a difficult and stressful experience for most people and many will simply not pursue cases without legal help.

If costs are not recoverable from the losing party at all, (as is presently the case in the small claims court) only those with claims at the upper end of the value spectrum, or the confident citizen, will seek justice from the courts.

There is already evidence from the National Audit Office Study on Small Claims that unrepresented plaintiffs fare badly against represented defendants. Increasing the small claims limit could easily be a charter for the well-resourced litigant to defeat the ordinary citizen.

Moreover, Mr Halliwell seems to have misunderstood Lord Woolf's proposals. Only more straightforward claims with a value of under £10,000 will be allocated to the fast track. The simpler procedures, the plaintiff's offer to settle and tougher sanctions for failing to comply with timetables, should mean that cases can be litigated for costs which are proportionate. In any event, Lord Woolf is only recommending limits on costs recovered from the other party, not solicitor and own client costs. So litigants will be free to judge the costs benefit equation themselves and pay their solicitor more if they think the case merits it.

Both Professor Zander and Mr Halliwell should listen to the views of consumer organisations and those they represent. They strongly support Lord Woolf's attempts to level the playing field. Provided the procedures on the fast track and the fixed costs are fair and reasonable, the Law Society does too.

Phillip Sycamore

Law Society vice-president.