THE LORD Chancellor's conditional fee proposals were cleared by the House of Lords last week despite a massive wave of protest which split the vote virtually down the middle.
Only 105 Lords agreed the plans in their unamended form as 100 backed a radical amendment tabled by Lord Ackner.
Ackner wants the uplift charged on fees cut from the 100 per cent proposed to just 20. Alternatively, he suggests a limit on the proportion of damages a lawyer can take for payment.
Speaker after speaker used Monday's three-and-a-half-hour debate to voice concern over the effects of uplift on the size of clients' legal bills.
Criticising Lord Mackay's plans, Ackner told the House: “If my noble and learned friend's proposals come into force without the cap being available, there will be occasions when this country will exceed the worst excesses of the United States.”
Supporting Ackner, Lord Irvine of Lairg predicted that the 100 per cent uplift would be applied to “a disturbingly high proportion of cases”. He said the consumer's well-being depended on the goodwill of the legal profession.
Lord Taylor of Gosforth called the contingency fee “an alien creature” which should not be “allowed to run amok”.
He added: “I suggest that the Lord Chancellor should go back and reconsider this matter.”
The Lord Chancellor, however, said limiting uplift would restrict the range of cases which lawyers were prepared to take on. He said the client's bills could be questioned under taxation if they were too high.
He added that he did not have the power under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 to impose a cap on the percentage of damage payable in fees.