If a person has substantional wealth, they may be able to pay for legal advice and representation themselves, although the costs can be very high, e.g. Springsteen v Masquerade Music 1998, a great dispute about copyright of a few songs, costs rose to almost £500,000 on the claimants side alone. This shows that cases can reach great amounts of money, and so it is not often seen that people will privately fund their representation out of their own pockets alone.
The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 has allowed, since 1995 Conditional Fee Agreements, that can now be used within all civil cases, excluding some family matters. This “no win, no fee” basis attracts many customers, as they believe that no money is paid up front, and if they are to lose the case, they will pay the solicitor nothing. If a client wins all of their expenses are actually paid by the other side and so an insurance policy is often advised to be taken out but the premiums and cost of the insurance is often quite high. Solicitors will charge a success fee, which must be no more than 25% of the total winnings plus their normal fee, if they are successful
The Access To Justice Act 1999 introduced the Community Legal Service (CLS). This ensures that the quality and planning of advice given is of a better standard. Before this act there had been in some places no access to advice or any overall planning. It also ensures that between voluntary and private sectors there is a partnership to make sure that all are able, equally to obtain Community Legal Service contracts. The Community Legal Service offers legal representation and help within all areas of civil courts. Private solicitors firms, Citizens Advice Bureaux’s and salaried employees of the Community Legal Service, provide all CLS services. There are now 5,000 solicitors firms who hold contracts to offer legal advice, whereas before December 1999, there were 11,000, reducing the choice of places to get legal advice, and the suitability of time and place. It also means that there are fewer solicitors that are able to give advice on specific areas of law.
There are many functions of the Community Legal Service. These include issuing information about any area of law and the whole legal system, and these services are free of any charge to anyone. The CLS also offer some help at court, although not full representation or to issue any legal proceedings on behalf of anyone, except if the client can give reason to which the work will be justified by themselves or that they feel that it is suitable for the CLS to fund the representation. Another service is to cover any costs that have arisen from mediation after analysing its help towards the family, and a means test is also used here with a disposable income of below £180 per week, and a disposable capitol of below £3000. All clients wanting legal representation from the CLS are subject to a means test, having to have a disposable income of £160 per week (£8000 per annum) and a disposable capitol of below £6750, and a contribution will be required if either fall above the limits. Certain cases have been removed form the legal aid system including personal injury except clinical negligence, defamation and business disputes. To offer support funding towards a case under a conditional fee agreement, however this does not apply if it is a small claims case or if there is any other form of alternative funding available to the client, such as insurance.
How Far Does This Provision Achieve a Satisfactory Service?
There are many advantages of the AJA reforms. These include that there is now a greater access to advice and justice from the Access to Justice act 1999. There is greater allocation of resources, meaning funds can be designated within to certain areas that the government deem the most suitable and beneficial towards society, whereas in the past this was not possible to do this.
Conditional fee agreements ensure that there is more money for other areas of law and it means that more people can enforce their rights, as it is much cheaper than taking a claim through a court and paying out of their own pockets. There has been a greater emphasis put onto on the funding of free legal advice and information to anyone, allowing the public to have greater access to all law information and to be better informed about the areas of law that affect them.
As there was originally a great geographical problem about the distribution of lawyers i.e. there were few solicitors willing to work in remote areas for the same pay as in highly populated and busier areas of the country, extra pay can be given to lawyers willing to work within remote areas.
There are now very high standards of work, achieved by limiting state funding to contract holders and those companies and firms that have passed a quality control standard test only, it is claimed that standards should be consistently high and so create competition to keep the standards getting higher. This means that clients are getting better representation and advice from solicitors and other firms, from the battle of competition
The government claims that with the introduction of the Access to Justice act, more people will be able to be included into the system of free representation and advice due to the system of contracts and by having a fixed budget to keep al costs, prices and boundaries under control and within a reasonable allowance. Meaning that any excess money that in the past had been wrongly or inappropriately spent on the old system can be reinstated into the new system, improving the information, free representation, support and standards even more.
With the advantages, there are many disadvantages of the system
With Conditional Fee agreements, there are a substantional number of disadvantages including that the insurance premiums taken out are often very expensive to pay form the clients’ own pocket. Although cheap they are not a substitute or a cheap alternative to civil legal aid. If a case is of great importance to the public or may need to involve a lot of work, some solicitors may be quite reluctant to take on the case and although the Access to Justice Act sometimes provides funding in exceptional cases, it does not cover enough of the costs for some clients to pursue their case. This is also the case if solicitors do not feel that there is a great chance of success, as they will not take on the case under a Conditional Fee Agreement, e.g. Donoghue v Stevenson, 1932, would have never been able to go to court if Conditional Fee Agreements were used then, as they would have found it hard to find a lawyer to deal with the case.
Many have blamed the government of trying to save money before justice, by having a fixed budget, and low boundaries for free legal aid and representation. Criminal legal aid, has in the past and will still continue to be demand-led, meaning that the civil law will get the remaining allowance when criminal legal aid is paid for, so the amount will vary from year to year, putting a strain on solicitors as once the budget is run out, the government will not pay out more, so any other cases left over, are not even considered for legal aid and will be expected to fund the case themselves.
Some places that offer free advice have been subject to poor working conditions due to cutbacks and so there is limited access for them to things such as legal textbooks and photocopiers.
Cases that may challenge any form of government action may be unable to find their way to court, as many solicitors are likely to take on the case over fears of loosing their contracts and becoming unpopular with the government and officials.
The system of using contracts has reduced the number of places to get advice and aid for free that the public can go to, and many believe that there will in the near future be a reduction in access to legal services
With the number of places for the public to gain general legal information or free legal aid decreasing, there seems to be great room for improvement. The system at present is unsuitable to the vast majority of the country, with many places opening at hours that are inconvenient to the general public. As the boundaries of the means tests are set so low, there are also few people who qualify for free legal aid as the boundaries are set close to income support level, when the costs of taking a claim to court are so high. It is however quite hard for the government to raise the boundaries, as it is hard to obtain the money to pay for more people to have free legal representation and support.
Although there are many advantages to the current system, the disadvantages do outweigh them, and so a new system that is more suitable should be introduced, or improvements to the current system brought in. It is however hard to raise enough money for raised boundaries on means tests, and it is also hard to think of a suitable replacement for the current system as all ideas will exclude or not aid some or groups of people.
So until a newer system that can be introduced to offer free legal aid to more people without exceeding the budget, the current system is suitable, but will need to be improved or changed for the benefit of all.