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When considering the position of the assisted litigant, there is a very careful scale of regulations and an examination is made of his means by the National Assistance Board. Then there is an assessment and an award by the local committee of the amount that should be contributed. I think that, by and large, in making those assessments the arrange- ments for disregards of the house and assets and many of the other matters means that, while the amount which most people are asked to contribute to the legal aid fund while assisted can be quite a burden, it would not be an exceptional financial hardship because the scale of contribution by the assisted person is intended to be gauged to his capacity to pay and it is usually very closely allied to the reality of his situation. If he finds it too heavy, it is usually because something has gone wrong in the method of assessment or there has been a failure to take account of the disregards.
I return to the Amendment and to a consideration of the factors which should persuade the Committee to reject the Amendment and not to make the provisions of the Bill too widely available to successful unassisted litigants. The hon. Member for Pontypool made the point that settlements, particularly in small actions, would be greatly discouraged. It is in the public interest that there should be moderation in litigation, and it is very desirable that solicitors should, at an early stage in the proceedings, get on the telephone to each other and find out whether they can sensibly settle the case. I have no doubt that the consequences, particularly in certain types of litigation in which a man knows that, if successful, his client is bound to receive the whole of his costs, may greatly diminish the number of settlements in cases which should properly be settled.
There is a public interest, however harsh it may seem, that some pressure—not too heavy, but some—as to costs should be applied to induce people to settle and not litigate, particularly when both are doing so on the basis that whoever wins will get the whole of the stake.
Thirdly, it will encourage local committees to grant legal aid more freely in the expectation that, if a mistake is made, no harm will have been done because it will be certain that the successful opponent will get his costs from the State. I know that this will not operate consciously upon members of local committees, who will, of course, continue to give very careful attention to cases before granting certificates, but I think that, unconsciously, it might lead them to think that it does not mat- ter so much whether a certificate is granted because the defendant, if he succeeds, will be able to recover his costs from the Legal Aid Fund.