The Law Society has said that it is “extremely concerned” about Lord Justice Jackson’s proposal that costs should be fixed for all claims up to £250,000.
LJ Jackson has recommended the extension of fixed costs to all civil claims, including personal injury cases up to a value of £250,000, irrespective of complexity. He called for the change in a speech delivered on 28 January. But Chancery Lane has responded by saying that his proposals risk harming Access to Justice.
In a statement, the Law Society said that it agreed that fixed recoverable costs for low-value claims could provide greater certainty for both sides in litigation and avoid protracted disputes about the level of costs. It also said that lower costs could reduce problems caused by costs budgeting and assessment in civil litigation.
However, President Jonathan Smithers said that LJ Jackson’s idea represented a tenfold increase on the current limit for many claims.
“A single approach for all cases, regardless of complexity, will lead to many cases being economically unviable to pursue, which undermines the principle of justice delivering fairness for all,” he said.
“We are also concerned by the suggestion that these proposals could be consulted on and implemented within a year, as we believe this is unrealistic.
“While Lord Justice Jackson does not speak with the authority of the government, his views are clearly of huge interest. A fixed costs scheme could curtail the ability for important cases to be brought, where the severity of the issue is not reflected in monetary terms but the purpose of the case is to reduce incidents of harm in the future by ensuring lessons are learned.”
The Law Society has suggested that there must be scope for exemptions and escapes for complex or unusual cases in any fixed cost regime and that there must be rigorous empirical evidence and research undertaken to justify the initial setting of the rates, as well as the level of thresholds.
If introduced, it added that rates and thresholds would have to be regularly reviewed and increased by reference to appropriate indices and that court procedures and court rules should be properly aligned with their introduction.