Major government reforms intended to cut the legal aid bill by £350m a year by 2015 will deny many workers injured or made ill by their work access to justice, unions have warned today.The proposals announced by justice secretary Kenneth Clarke will dramatically reduce access to legal support, with employment and personal injury costs on the government hit list. Mr Clarke said: ‘I believe that the taxpayer should continue to provide legal aid to those who need it most and for serious issues.’ Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly was left to spell out changes to make life easier for defendants. ‘One of our key proposals is reforming the current ‘no win no fee’ regime,’ he said, adding the ‘proposals are designed to prevent the situation in which, regardless of the merits of their case, defendants are forced to settle for fear of prohibitive costs.’ Forgive me if I’m missing the obvious here, but don’t the defendants have their own legal team who fight for their interests? Who, pray tell, is forcing these poor, maligned, fearful and mercilessly bullied corporate behemoths into coughing up when there is no case to answer ‘regardless of the merits of the case’? It certainly isn’t our clients. Mr. Djanogly’s statement epitomises this government’s attitude to the rights of disadvataged people seeking justice for personal injury. He seeks to demonise and bully accident victims whilst pedling the myth of a nation under seige from legions of fraudulent and spurious compensation claims. Mr. Clark would appear to have so little faith in the justice system that he thinks the defendants, aka the insurance industry, need a little bit of help to keep their costs down, bless ’em. However, being a man of the people he wants to keep legal aid for those who need it most – well here’s a headline Ken – it’s only those who can prove they need it most, ie. people on very low incomes, who have even the slightest chance of getting legal aid for a personal injury action today. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the personal injury system already worked in favour of defendants, pointing out claims had fallen dramatically in recent years and only a minority of those with a genuine case actually pursue compensation. He added: ‘Workers rights to compensation are being attacked on all fronts. When ‘no win no fee’ arrangements for personal injury claims were introduced the government slashed access to legal aid, saying that it was no longer needed. Now, however, they are both reducing workers ability to access no win no fee arrangements and at the same time cutting legal aid even further.’ Rachael Maskell, Unite national officer for the not for profit sector, said what Kenneth Clarke had done was ‘silence the voices of the weak in British society in a brutal bid to reduce his department’s budget by 23 per cent over the next four years.’ She added Unite would redouble the efforts of its Justice for All campaign. Hear, hear. If you have been hurt or injured in an accident or have been diagnosed with an industrial illness or disease, you can discuss your case FREE OF CHARGE with a personal injury specialist at Bonnar & Company on 0800 163 978. We will advise you of your rights and give you impartial expert legal advice.
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