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A scheme set up by The Accident Group (Tag), under which a non-lawyer handles conditional fee arrangements (CFAs), has been vindicated for the second time by the Court of Appeal.
The fate of some 700 solicitor practices rested on the outcome of this decision. Had the CFAs been declared invalid by the judge, the firms would not have been able to recover fees for successful litigation in some 250,000 cases.
Delivering his judgment, Lord Justice Brooke accused insurers of undermining the Government’s intention of providing access to justice for all. Insurers alleged technical defects in Tag’s CFAs on the grounds that it used its agent, Accident Investigation Line (AIL), to explain and agree funding arrangements with clients. Judge Brooke found that these allegations were unfounded.
Judge Brooke said: “It was the intent of Parliament to enhance access to justice, not impede it, and to create better ways of delivering litigation services, not worse ones. We can see no reason why the duties cannot be performed by someone on a solicitor’s behalf who does not happen to be a qualified solicitor.”
However, the court laid down rules relating to TAG representatives. It ordered that an established framework for reporting and accountability needed to be established, and that this would have to be supervised by a solicitor. This is to ensure quality control in the information provided by TAG agents.
Andrew Parker, a litigation partner at Beachcroft Wansbroughs who acted for the defendant insurers – which are now liable as a result of this judgment – said: “This judgment re-emphasises the need for consumer protection and for close scrutiny of claims management schemes. This is far from the victory for claimants trumpeted by TAG.”
Colin Entwistle, head of group corporate affairs at TAG, said: “We’re pleased that the court has recognised the ‘technical and artificial’ arguments used by some parts of the insurance industry in an attempt to impede the proper working of ‘no win, no fee’ litigation.”