In an exclusive interview that appeared in the Law Gazette dated 21st April 2006, the new Master of The Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, speaks his opinions of the soaring litigation costs and the legal aid budget.
Sir Anthony has had a high-flying judicial career since being appointed to the High Court Bench in 1993. He says "the most important issue that the civil justice system needs to worry about is control over costs. Litigation is becoming more and more expensive and the adversarial system is also an expensive way of proceeding."
Clearly, Sir Anthony is alarmed by the diminishing nature of the civil Legal Aid budget and claims that the real problem is the failure of the government not controlling criminal Legal Aid. In effect "legal aid has been radically reduced over the last few years."
Only when the criminal Legal Aid budget is under control will it be possible for the Department for Constitutional Affairs to return to a sensible budget. Sir Anthony says he is interested in proposals for costs budgeting and enforceable estimates although he does see some practical difficulties, but he is less enthusiastic about contingency fees. On conditional fee agreements, he has commented that they are working well, but had added “where I worry [is] about 100% uplift. When they first started, the uplift was more in the region of 25%”.
He also regards the new constitutional reforms this month as positive, particularly in relation to increasing diversity on the bench.
All in all Sir Anthony Clarke commented on a wide range of serious issues in the interview, which in his eyes should be dealt with quickly and effectively. However he did say that there is a great deal of legal expertise in London and that some of the big City firms know more about commercial litigation that anyone else in the world.