Understandably, the focus of much of the debate around this year's General Election is the economy. A large part of this debate is relevant to those requiring legal advice. Cuts to legal aid, the budgets of Courts and the streamlining of legal processes to save money are regularly discussed by all political parties. With the general election but hours away, what impact might the outcome have for those seeking compensation for their injuries?
For information, personal injury law in Scotland is different from the rest of the United Kingdom, even if it is broadly similar (our view is that Scots law is fairer, simpler and more just for claimants, however!). Any changes made to the law south of the border may not necessarily have any impact in Scotland.
During the previous Parliament, the Conservative Party undertook a substantial modernisation of the courts service in England & Wales, including the closures of some courts. They have pledged in their manifesto to continue the modernisation process. While a more modern process is to be welcomed, closing of courts restricts access to justice for many people. In Northern Ireland, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) have committed to fighting the closure of courts.
The Liberal Democrats, ostensibly one-half of our previous coalition Government have pledged in their manifesto to carry out a review of court fees in consultation with Judges in England & Wales. As part of this, they have promised to reverse and recent rises in fees if such a rise has made accessing justice unaffordable. The Lib Dem manifesto also commits them to retaining 'recoverable success fees and insurance premiums in Asbestosis claims and in cases where the individual seeking compensation is suing the police (again, this is relevant only in England & Wales).
The Green Party wishes to introduce a presumption of fault in cases where drivers injure cyclists or pedestrians. However, their manifesto also says that the injured cyclist or pedestrian may be found to be "contributorily negligent" and have their compensation reduced as a result. In practice, this means that if the court decides the cyclist is 25% to blame, then their compensation is reduced by a quarter. This doesn't apply, however, where the victim is a child, an elderly person or if their movement is somehow impaired.
Much of the legal/political debate in the last few years relates to cuts in legal aid, which have happened both north and south of the border. The Green Party and Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Nationalist Party, have pledged to reverse the cuts. The Lib Dems have pledged to review legal aid availability in civil cases. There is also a pledge to 'review' the legal aid system in the Conservative Manifesto.
Where Human Rights are concerned, both UKIP and the Conservative Party have pledged to try and remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. The Conservatives have pledged to make the UK Supreme Court the highest Court for Human Rights matters in the UK, breaking the link between the UK and Strasbourg.
The Lib Dems and the green part will retain the Human Rights Act while the Labour Party have promised to 'Protect' it.
Where (potential) medical negligence is concerned, the Labour Party wish to introduce a review of every hospital death in order that any issues can be acted upon. To reduce poor care, Labour will introduce independent medical examinations as oversight. Following a number of high-profile cases, the Labour party have pledged to consult on the creation of a new criminal offence of 'corporate neglect' may be created to apply to directors of care homes.
Further relevant pledges include the Conservative party's commitment to 'cutting red tape' over the next Parliament. Plaid Cymru have pledged to create a separate Welsh Legal Jurisdiction.
As far as the SNP Manifesto is concerned, this is a General Election so there is nothing of bearing on the question of Scots law per se. Any matters relating specifically to the law of Scotland would be dealt with by the Scottish Parliament, which, of course, has separate elections.
The Scottish Government has made some changes to the law as it affects personal injury claims in recent years though. The issue of the funding of personal injury cases has been the subject of the Taylor review which was requested by the Scottish Government. The proposals contained within are the subject of consideration at the moment.
One proposal under consideration is the adoption of a similar funding arrangement to that found in England & Wales which is referred to as "Qualified One Way Costs Shifting" (QOCS). In practice, this shifts the risk of personal injury litigation from the injured party to the insurer until they made an offer to the injured party (known as the pursuer in Scotland). The present situation is that pursuers take insurance against the risk of losing their case, but they are unable to recover the costs of this insurance, even if successful. The new approach would eradicate this and improve access to justice. At the moment, this is just a proposal and nothing has been definitively decided.
The Scottish Government has also introduced specialist personal injury courts in the Sheriff Courts which come into being later this year.
This is a brief outline of the various points in each party's manifesto which are germane to personal injury law in the UK. Nothing herein constitutes legal advice, nor does it disclose any political view held by Lawford Kidd or their individual partners & solicitors.
Whichever party you choose, please remember to get out and vote!