Corrupt police officers will “get away with it” under the Legal Aid Board's (LAB) new Funding Code, according to Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) chair Richard Miller.
The Funding Code caps the LAB's budget and says legal aid should only be available where damages worth three times the likely costs of the case are expected. However, Miller says civil actions against the police typically have high costs and low basic damages and will be “adver-sely affected” by the code.
Miller says: “The Stephen Lawrence case highlights that the police force has lots of faults and is not the perfect organisation people assume. Although cases brought against the police are usually cost-effective, when you add aggravated and exemplary damages, the expected basic damages will often not be enough to fulfil the criteria of the code.”
Miller adds: “The costs are high because the actions are usually well defended. The client often has criminal convictions and the witnesses may be unreliable, so solicitors are unlikely to take these cases on a conditional fee basis.”
Roderick James, a barrister at 23 Essex Street chambers who represents both police and claimants, says: “I am sure this will cut down civil actions against the police quite considerably.
“These cases are a regular event for the police. These days the vast majority of cases are worth less than #50,000 and it is not difficult to rack up costs of a third of that – the average level of damages is about £10-£15,000.”