Back in the early part of 2016 I looked at how changes to the costs rules since April 2013 had benefitted Defendants at the expense of Claimants. I pointed out that many had commented that successive governments had been increasingly pro-Defendant in their reforms.
The announcement earlier in 2016 by the then Health Minister, Ben Gummer, seemed to be consistent with that view insofar as Mr Gummer had announced that the government intended to bring in fixed costs for all litigation cases worth £250,000 or less, including clinical negligence, and these reforms were to be introduced in October 2016.
Well, the long awaited consultation on fixed costs initially set for the end of 2015, then put back to early 2016, is still nowhere to be seen!
However, recent news reports seem to suggest that the government has reviewed the idea of fixed costs for clinical negligence cases and now intends to set the level for inclusion in the fixed costs regime for clinical negligence cases of £25,000 or less (not £250,000).
What will actually happen?
The consultation paper is still awaited and the government will need to review the outcome of the consultation before proceeding to introduce their reforms.
The national Law Society has welcomed news of some reversal of thinking by the government, but the Law Society has highlighted the difficulties in imposing fixed costs in clinical negligence cases where complex medical issues are involved. Such a regime should only apply to modest value claims of £25,000 or less where liability has been admitted.
Equality before the law is a fundamental principle behind our justice system. Fixed costs will save Defendants money at the expense of Claimants. In cases against the NHS, the State is ultimately responsible for paying successful Claimants and for paying for the defence in claims against NHS Trusts.
The State has deep pockets. Hence, the playing field is not equal now and creating further costs obstacles for Claimants will make the current lack of equality even worse.
Let us not forget that legal aid for clinical negligence cases was removed in April 2013, save for a small minority of cases. No legal aid and the introduction of fixed costs – do you now wonder why I title this commentary, “Stacking the Deck – Again!”