Don’t take it from me – that’s what 87% of lawyers who were questioned, think: Furthermore, more than 79% of those lawyers surveyed believe that de-skilling is inevitable. Not great when the customer needs things done properly.
For those who don’t know, the English and Welsh legal system has been systematically pulled apart over the last 2 years and reconstructed. Well, partly reconstructed.
In short, criminal legal aid funding has been dramatically reduced, family legal aid has been more or less annihilated (except for some few exceptional cases), and civil litigation has been changed beyond recognition, making it harder for ordinary people to enforce their rights.
The most talked about area of civil litigation is injury. Whilst people who have suffered injuries at others’ hands now have a much harder job proving their case, and will no longer be able to keep all of their compensation, this article does not concern injuries, but in fact deals with one area which is often overlooked – small business and consumer claims.
• That repeat customer who refuses to pay his bills;
• That computer that packed up 1 month after you bought it;
• The new conservatory that sprang a leak;
• The car salesman who conveniently forgot to tell you that your car had a very expensive fault before you bought it.
Many people are not aware that the Small Claims Limit was raised last year from £5,000 to £10,000. That means that since April 2013, if you have a contract claim of up to £10,000 (including, but not exclusively, as above) you either pay to go to court yourself, or write it off.
I’ll say that again. You write it off.
Writing off a debt of up to £10,000 is a choice many people make, because if they hire a solicitor to help them, even if they win, they can’t recover their legal costs from the loser. So they could recover their (say) £9,000 debt, but may have paid (say) £3,000 – £4,000 to a solicitor to achieve that. What’s the point, especially when it can take 1-2 years to get there.
The logical outcome of such changes is easy to envisage – people who can’t afford solicitors either don’t take action or run their cases themselves. Many people need to consult a lawyer, but can’t afford to do so, and so don’t.
Many people on the other hand are brave enough to run cases themselves, and many get it wrong, because (surprise, surprise) the law is complex. Even the Master of the Rolls, who ushered in most of the plethora of changes in the law over the last two years, believes that winnable cases WILL be lost because people are running them without legal assistance.
The Court of Appeal not only agrees, but their frustration at having to explain the law to those who cannot afford a solicitor, is all too evident.
The good news is that there are now alternatives which will provide you with the expert legal help you need, at a fraction of the cost of a conventional solicitor’s practice.
Going back to the article at the top, the 87% are right. And wrong.
Government policy IS forcing the public further away from access to justice, BUT the market is adapting to respond to those changes. If you want to know more, you can contact me here.
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Dean V Talbot F.C.I.L.Ex.