Free legal advice is now only for union members

The Government’s devastating attack on access to justice for injured people means that from 1 April, if you’re injured in an accident (at work or otherwise) or develop a work-related disease in England or Wales, only trade union members and their families will
continue to benefit from a free, independent and specialist legal service.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act became law last year, despite massive opposition from trade unions, victim support groups and civil rights organisations. The Act ripped up the current arrangements that enable genuinely injured people to have legal representation without the risk of having to pay from their own pocket if their claim is unsuccessful.

This is because the guilty party, usually the employer or their liability insurer, will no longer have to pay the insurance premium that the injured person takes out to cover the cost of things like medical reports and court fees should they lose. Such costs, called disbursements in legal jargon, are usually vital to pursue a case and to prove who or what caused the accident that led to the injury, the exact nature of the injury and the short and long-term prognosis. But they can cost thousands of pounds. So, unless a case is going to be very straightforward and won’t require lots of investigation and reports (which is rare in work-related accidents and disease cases), non-union solicitors are unlikely to take it on because of the risk of not being paid.

Lawyers will also be allowed to deduct up to 25 per cent from their clients’ compensation to cover some of their costs, because they will no longer be able to claim them from the losing side. So 100 per cent compensation may be a thing of the past. Although many lawyers may continue after 1 April to promise no deductions from compensation, they are likely to refuse to take on risky cases that they cannot be sure will succeed. Or they may agree to take on a complicated claim, but only if the claimant is able to pay up front for fees, investigations and medical reports.

An injured person doesn’t have to accept being referred to a law firm provided by an insurance company, just because they may have legal expenses insurance added onto their household or motor policies. They have a right to genuinely independent legal advice, not to be told what their claim is worth by a lawyer who has been given the case by an insurance company.

That is why UNISON Yorkshire & Humberside has been working closely with Thompsons since LASPO became law to work out ways claims can still be supported.

To benefit from this service, members and their families with personal injury claims should contact UNISON’s legal service on 0845 355 0845 for more details.

source: UNISON personal injury legal services, Yorkshire and Humberside, Spring 2012 newsletter