Hodge Jones & Allen has recently celebrated its 40 years in practice and as a partner in the personal injury team I was asked to reflect back on my own career of 22 years. The good and the bad.
My initial foray into the legal world was working as an administrator in the Legal Aid offices in Liverpool in 1995. The hardest and most time managed job I have ever had. Work was allocated to me in a LARGE pigeon whole. Different work had to be completed within certain timescales so say 10 POA within 20 minutes. The horror was Statutory Charge decisions – 3 in an hour – with papers higher than 2 foot deep to wade through. I didn’t last long!
I am sure that computerisation has improved the process an awful lot which has to be a good thing, right?
Next stop was a firm of solicitors in Manchester working as a paralegal dealing with a high volume of RTA cases.
Back then, the scariest thing on the horizon was an automatic strike out if a hearing date had not been requested within 15 months under Order 17 rule (11).
Lord Woolf revolutionised the way in which Civil Litigation was conducted with his Civil Procedure Rules 1998, which in April 1999, heralded a new dawn for practitioners.
This brought an “equality of arms” and a “cards on the table” approach to the conduct of civil litigation. Active case management by Judges was a new idea and was and is still welcomed to help cases progress to conclusion as quickly as possible.
In my view The Woolf reforms were largely well received and did help with the resolution of disputes quickly. That is my rose coloured spectacle recollection in any event.
As a newly qualified in 1999 I prided myself on knowing the CPR inside out. As a PQE of 18 years I can’t quite claim that I have instant recall of all the amendments to the rules (we are on the 88th version*). Though do now have access to the CPR online, which is defiantly an improvement on wading through the 4 lever arch files that contained the Rules.
*The American Constitution has undergone 27th amendments.
Fixed (Predictive) Costs in RTA worth up to £10,000 in value made an appearance in 2003. These were painful in terms of less recoverability of costs for the work done but with streamlined systems a good service could be provided to the clients.
Since then the tsunami of changes has been relentless.
Sir Rupert Jackson presented his review into civil costs in January 2010 to the then Justice Minister Jack Straw. It was the coalition government who enacted the change in the law to bring in this package of reforms by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, or LASPO and the changes arrived on 1st April 2013.
These included the expansion of the MOJ RTA portal to include RTA cases up to £25,000 in value and the introduction of a new portal for EL and PL cases up to a value of £25,000 from 31st July that same year.
It is this change that I fear is the ‘nail in the coffin’ for access to justice for ordinary people.
There is a constant juggling act for solicitors between the amount of work to be done on a file against the amount that will be paid in fixed recoverable costs in cases which are worth up to £25,000.
The changes ignore the fact that our clients are people. We cannot cut them off when they ring us to ask for advice. We cannot ask them to stop calling us when they are suicidal. If we did we would also fail in our duty to them and our own high professional standards as solicitors.
On the horizon there are more changes with a further Jackson review of fixed costs.
Keeping the focus on helping injured people
There seems to be no consideration for the injured person, or indeed, the most vulnerable in our society.
The new proposal appears to include a suggestion that infant and protected party assessments should be costed as normal applications. I really cannot believe that Lord Justice Jackson understands exactly how much work goes into preparing such an application.
It is a cliché but, I do enjoy doing a good job for my client which means obtaining for them a reasonable amount of compensation for the injuries they have sustained, as a result of another’s negligence, in a reasonable amount of time.
I enjoy the challenge of managing a difficult caseload of serious injury cases and supervising more junior solicitors who deal with fast track MOJ portal work. Hopefully passing on my knowledge and wisdom garnered over 2 decades.
The advent of LASPO really has made me question once again how much society truly values the importance of access to justice for all. I will end with some wise words from my Senior Partner Patrick Allen, who has been Fighting for What’s Right! for 40years.
“Access to justice is a fundamental right – in my view it is the hallmark of a modern, progressive and civilised society.”