Victims of negligence, nuisance, or other civil wrongs will be relieved by a Supreme Court decision which guarantees their cost-effective access to justice. The Court ruled that the ‘no win no fee’ regime operated by hundreds of law firms is lawful and does not involve any breach of human rights.
The issue arose in a case in which a couple succeeded in a noise nuisance claim against the operators of a motorsport stadium. The latter were ordered to pay the lion’s share of the legal costs of the case. The operators’ bill for the trial alone came to almost £500,000, to which the costs of subsequent appeals would be added.
The case had been pursued on a no win no fee basis by the couple’s solicitors and the operators’ bill included substantial sums to reflect lawyers’ success fees and after the event insurance premiums. In those circumstances, the operators submitted that the no win no fee system, established by the Access to Justice Act 1999, had led to disproportionate results and infringed the operators’ human rights to a fair hearing and to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions.
The Court accepted that the no win no fee regime is not without flaws and does have harsh results in some cases. However, in rejecting the operators’ case, it found that the system is a rational and coherent means of providing access to justice for those who could not otherwise afford it. The scheme struck the right balance and had the legitimate aim of affording the widest possible public access to legal services for civil litigation, funded by the private sector.