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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 John Hobson Sir John Hobson , Warwick and Leamington 12:00 am, 23rd January 1964

I cannot understand why a person who has insured himself against a risk should be excluded from a benefit while someone who has had sufficient wealth to carry his own risk and his own insurance should benefit. I do not see why people who want to carry their own risks and can afford to pay should benefit while those who cannot afford it should not benefit.

We should be getting into very deep waters indeed if we went further in that direction. I do not think that we should consider divisions between one category of this sort and another. In these cases, which will form quite a large part of the total, the risk of the cost of litigation of this sort is generally spread throughout the community.

For instance, manufacturers generally insure against industrial injury costs while motorists are compulsorily insured against claims against them as motorists. Premiums for this are paid to the insurance companies and those who operate these activities run the risk of such litigation. It is not right that they should benefit from the taxpayer's money, especially since many of the taxpayers are not the slightest bit concerned either with motoring or motorists and have no interest in it. On the other hand, as regards a particular class of action, I should have thought it perfectly right that the risks should be continually spread over the community through insurance benefits.

I agree that small actions are also of great importance, and it is necessary to bear in mind that the Bill may bring help to the individual of small means who may not be insured. I should have thought that this was the type of person who would, in every instance, find it easiest to get through the gateway of "severe financial hardship." The more impecunious a person is the greater the burden of even a small quantity of costs may be. Even the moderate cost of defending a case of possession in a county court may be a severe financial hardship to many people who would be left to pay the costs if they could not recover them from an impecunious landlord.

6.0 p.m.

I ought also to point out that the restrictive words do not apply to appellate courts. It was considered that it is always an unduly severe financial burden to have to go to an appeal court to keep or get a verdict and take the risks of a second round of litigation. Therefore, the appellate courts will have the suggested wider discretion concerning the costs of the appeal.

It is the appellate court which will make the decision concerning the severe financial hardship, as on the costs of first instance, whatever may have been the provisional decision of the court of first instance. That court normally ought not to make a decision as to whether there has been severe financial hardship until it knows that there will be no appeal. If, however, it makes a provisional judgment on that issue before it knows whether there will be an appeal, and if a notice of appeal is put in and the appeal is pursued, it will be the appellate court which will take the decision as to severe financial hardship in regard to the costs incurred at first instance.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West raised an interesting point, which does not particularly arise, perhaps, under the Amendment, about how the costs would be assessed and whether he would want to disclose some of the financial debts that his clients had incurred in the lighter side of their lives. Why they should want to disclose those to their wives and to nobody else, I do not know. I should have thought that it would be the other way round.