Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 22 September 2011

When I had a proper job I was a solicitor, and even in those days there were plenty of jokes around about ambulance chasing lawyers. But in the last 20 years we have spawned a huge compensation culture in this country, largely on the back of no win no fee arrangements.
We have all seen the TV adverts: have you had a fall, did you trip over a pavement, have you had an accident that wasn't your fault – just call this number and our expert legal team will win you millions in compensation. As a result we have witnessed a huge upsurge in compensation claims costing an absolute fortune to our health service, local councils and all public bodies. But who pays in the end? We do; the tax payer of course. No public body has money of its own; it all ultimately comes from us the public.
Many claims are spurious, but are settled out of court because the cost of fighting a case all the way can be prohibitive. On a no win no fee basis, the claimant has nothing to lose, so why not claim? And it is not just public bodies; many businesses are hamstrung by a steady stream of vexatious tribunal cases brought by aggrieved former employees.
The government is trying to tackle this problem. We are ending the way in which lawyers can force the defending side to settle their fees on top of any compensation. In future their fees will come out of the compensation. Nobody wants to raise obstacles in front of genuine claims where the defendant has been negligent and the plaintiff has suffered genuine loss. Our justice system exists to put right genuine wrongs. But we have drifted a long way from that.
The mess this has made of our legal system is only part of the problem: the real impact of this compensation culture is on public attitudes. There seems to be no longer such a thing as a genuine accident. I stub my toe and the cry goes up: somebody must pay, somebody must be to blame, I know my rights.
Add our national obsession with compensation to our pathological risk aversion and welfare dependency and we have an ugly list of attitudes that have got to change if we are to restore our twisted society. It may be that the cold blast of inescapable austerity will help usher in a more common sense approach.

posted by Gary @ 19:00