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Clause 1. — (Power to Award Costs Out of Legal Aid Fund.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Legal Aid Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd January 1964.

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Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill 12:00 am, 23rd January 1964

The Committee may think that there is a good deal of logic behind the argument so ably advanced by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). Applying simple logic, I agree that there is great force in his argument. It is odd that a successful unassisted litigant should recover his costs only on proof of severe financial hardship.

However, what I believe the Committee should bear in mind is that on matters of this kind the force of logic must be balanced by considering the need for reasonable restraint in the use of public funds. This is a very important factor for the Committee to bear in mind. When it becomes widely known, as it will, that in a large number of litigations both sides are, in effect, being financed out of public money—I do not object at all to this principle—there might follow as a consequence a dilution in the public mind of any enthusiasm they may feel towards the whole valuable concept of legal aid.

We do not want this to happen. We must be very vigilant to ensure that it does not occur. If the public becomes acquainted, as it gradually will, with the notion of both sides being, in effect, subsidised in their litigation, there may be consequences in terms of public opinion which neither the hon. Member for Tiverton nor I would welcome. The reaction of public opinion would be peculiarly unfavourable if one of the parties affected was a rich person or a, wealthy corporation.

It is because I give weight to this factor, which, perhaps, is not as strictly logical as the factors advanced by the hon. Member for Tiverton, that I would not wish to support the Amendment. I think it well that the matter should be left as a matter of discretion for the courts, and on the whole the definition of that discretion now appearing in the Bill appears to be adequate for the purpose.