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Legal Aid Reforms May Prevent 14,000 Injured Children Finding Justice Warns New Research

Originally Published 20 December 1999
New research by Professor Judith Masson and Andrea Orchard from the University of Warwick's School of Law have produced the first significant overview of children's litigation and warns that planned reforms to the legal aid system may prove a serious obstacle to injured children seeking justice in the future.

The research carried out by the University of Warwick team for the Lord Chancellor's department outlines its concerns about the effect on children of the removal of legal aid for most personal injury claims and the legal aid Board's proposals for a new Funding Code for those cases where legal aid could still be obtained. The researchers warn that this will put significant impediments in the way of children seeking justice on such issues in the future. Much of children's civil litigation arises from personal injury claims. In 1997-8 14,000 children pursued cases relating to personal injury (including over 3000 due to car accidents). Both the removal of legal aid from most of these cases and the new funding formula for the remainder will mean that children will have to rely more on legal expenses insurance and conditional fee arrangements as the means of ensuring their claims receive the attention they need from legal representatives. However because children's cases are perceived as having higher costs and winning lower damages many lawyers and insurance providers who are willing to take the risk of providing legal expenses insurance and conditional fee arrangements for cases relating to adults will be less likely to take on the risks posed by children's cases.

This research confirmed some of those concerns that damages levels are generally low for children whilst costs are as high or higher than in adults' cases. For example, in only 26 per cent of children's personal injury cases which solicitors considered to have over 60% chance of success were damages predicted to exceed 3 x costs. Such a cost damages ratio might not attract a lawyer willing to represent on the basis of a conditional fee agreement. The research found that 82.7 per cent of the all the 480 children's cases sampled where personal injury cases. In terms of personal injuries and medical negligence boys seemed to enter court far more often: boys accounted for 59% of the personal injury claims, 60 per cent of the claims against schools were by boys, almost 60% of the medical negligence cases were in respect of boys (much being accounted for by the higher level of applications in relation to birth injuries), boys also accounted for 70 per cent of the injuries at work reflecting the more hazardous nature of work undertaken by boys and possibly their accident proneness.

Girls fared worse in relation to domestic accidents and accidents in leisure facilities - 60 per cent of the children going to court on such matters were girls. Girls also made up 71 per cent of the injunction applications, many of which surprisingly were young girls attempting to get injunctions against allegedly abusive young boyfriends.

Another research finding related to the fact that children can only litigate through a "litigation friend" which often tends to be a parent. The researchers found that mothers played a much more active role here. In 47 per cent of cases the mother as the litigation friend. Fathers only took this role 15 per cent of the time.

For further information please contact:

Professor Judith Masson, School of Law
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 523172 or 01926 511113 (home)
email: judith@themis.law.warwick.ac.uk

Further information about the above press release and all other media services at the University of Warwick can be obtained from:

Peter Dunn, Press Officer
Public Affairs Office
Senate House
University of Warwick
Coventry, CV4 7AL
West Midlands
Tel: 024 76 523708
Email: puapjd@admin.warwick.ac.uk