Yesterday in parliament…

04 November 2015

Isn't Radio Four's (slightly satirical) "Yesterday in Parliament" great?  I catch it most mornings as it races through previous the day's debates in the House. We have put together our own report from Hansard focusing on the Justice session and how legal expenses insurance fits into the picture. 

Litigants in person and McKenzie Friends
Against opposition claims that the Court Service is in crisis following cuts to the justice budget and a call on Government to commission a survey of Court officials; having already spent £2 million to ensure greater support for litigants in person (such as online guidance, guidance from court officers and judicial training), the Government promised investment in a new strategy to provide more support to litigants in person.
While the Government maintains that Judges, magistrates and legal advisers are well equipped to support litigants in person through the court process... we think it can be intimidating and daunting for individuals. Where legal expenses insurance is available it must be a preferred solution. Make sure your clients opt in. 

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPOA) Review
The opposition reminded the Secretary of State of concerns raised by the Justice Committee, the National Audit Office and others regarding litigants self-representing and urged the planned review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to be brought forward from 2017.
Parliament heard that civil legal aid remains available for only the most serious cases, including cases in which life or liberty is at stake, there is a risk of serious physical harm, or children may be removed from their families. However, many hundreds of thousands of ordinary people no longer have access to legal advice or representation. Other than asking lawyers to do more work for free – [that is unless their case is suitable for legal expenses insurance. We are always looking at how our policies can help provide access to justice for new and additional areas of civil litigation].

McKenzie Friends
With the growth in litigants in person there has been a growth in McKenzie friends. There are two types: those who provide backgrounds to unfamiliar settings and those who act effectively as lawyers and charge for their services. The Government expressed an intention to "keep an eye on advice and fees are being charged. [We see Mckenzie Friends as a potential area for concern. Our policyholders are represented by a qualified professional lawyer and we keep an eye on our panel firms to ensure they continue to deliver the high quality service we insist on.]

Criminal Courts Charge
The introduction of this charge has made it possible to recover some of the costs from offenders, which reduces the burden on taxpayers. The Government is keeping the operation of the criminal courts charge under review.
The opposition however was concerned about of disturbing case studies highlighted by campaigners showing that this charge is putting pressure on people to plead guilty in order to avoid legal costs, thereby restricting access to a free trial. There are further worries that bailiffs will chase debts that will simply be written off and never collected. 
The Government had expected criminal charges to raise £265million however the Chair of the Justice Committee told the BBC that, as well as distorting the criminal justice system for most defendants and sentences, it may well run at a loss. The Secretary for State was urged to scrap the charge. [Against a background of changes to means testing and cost recovery for criminal cases we introduced our comprehensive Family Prosecution Defence policy. The policy will not pay criminal changes however it will afford defendants a professional legal defence].


Lesley Attu
Product Development Manager



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