§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6th December], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Mr. Speaker, when I had the good fortune on Friday to catch your eye in the debate on the Bill I said that I would be brief, and 15 words later my brevity was exhausted and the debate was adjourned.
I think that many hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the Bill as long as one offending subsection is at a later stage—I understand that the Committee stage is to be taken on the Floor of the House—removed. I make that reservation because if a Bill is passed which has one gross and glaring defect it is very often an extraordinarily long time before the defect can be removed, much longer than if the Bill is not accepted at all. That is why I am hoping to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend that his mind has moved rapidly in the direction of deleting the offending subsection.
In Clause 1(2) there appears a phrase with which I think we all agree:An order may be made"—against a legally-aided person—under this section in respect of any costs if (and only if) the court is satisfied that it is just and equitable in all the circumstances that provision for those costs should be made out of public funds;Surely that is sufficient criterion for an order for costs being made; and surely it follows that if it is just and equitable in all the circumstances that an order for costs should be made, then it is unjust and inequitable in all the circumstances that costs should be denied. That logically follows as night follows day and I do not see how the Attorney-General, with any amount of forensic skill, can argue his way out of it.
163 The Bill, unfortunately, goes on to make the provision that an order shall only be made not only if the court considers it just and equitable in all circumstances that provision for those costs should be made out of public funds, but also if the person who is applying for costs, or on whose behalf costs are being applied for, can satisfy the court that the unassisted party will suffer severe financial hardship unless the order is made.
In his opening speech, the Attorney-General made a number of statements of remarkably dubious accuracy. Referring to Clause 1(3,b)—dealing with hardship—he said:This would cast a heavy burden on the taxpayer—possibly in the region of £340,000 a year—for the benefit of a small number of persons, and, ex hypothesi, for persons who would not be suffering any financial hardship…"—[Official Report, 6th December, 1963; Vol. 685, c. 1595.]I would be most interested to learn the reason he has for supposing that only a small number of people are affected. Those who are affected are not only those who go into court knowing that they will not get costs even if they successfully defend themselves. A number of persons—the total cannot be accurately gauged—pay up under threat of legal action to which they have perfectly valid answers, because the damages for which they are being asked are less than the cost of defending themselves, which they would not recover—in other words, it is a form of legal blackmail. My right hon. and learned Friend should not guess that only a small number of people are affected, for that is going beyond his knowledge—and mine.
When he says…ex hypothesi, for persons who would not be suffering any financial hardship…that, again, is not accurate. It is not enough to say to a person in court that he would not suffer "any" financial hardship. The criterion is to be "severe" financial hardship which is a much greater degree than "any" financial hardship. This is palpably obvious. If it were necessary only to show that one had suffered "some" financial hardship this provision would not be so unfair.
My right hon. and learned Friend based part of his case on his concern to save 164 £340,000 a year—that, presumably, being the sum that people are paying out at the moment for successfully defending actions and not being able to get their costs against the other party. If he is really concerned to save that sum of money each year, I should have thought that, as Leader of the Bar as well as Attorney-General, he could save considerably more than that if he could persuade his legal brethren to drop the gross and putrid restrictive practice where it is impossible to hire a Queen's Counsel without hiring a junior at two-thirds of the fee for which leading Counsel is hired.
If my right hon. and learned Friend is really anxious to save the Legal Aid Scheme this cost, I would suggest that he pursues that line. Unpopular as he would be in doing so, and unpopular as I shall doubtless be for suggesting it, he might well find himself saving a sum of money considerably in excess of £340,000.
I understand that the Committee stage of the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House, in which case a number of hon. Members and hon. and learned Members who wished to speak on Friday and received no notification that the debate was to be continued today will doubtless wish to contribute. I happen to know at least one hon. and learned Member, occupying a judicial position, who has every desire to stress some points that I am making now.
Bearing in mind the very inadequate notice that has been given of this debate tonight, my right hon. and learned Friend ought not to prejudge the objections to Clause 1(3, b) from the emptiness of the benches on both sides of the House, because I suspect that he will find them very much fuller when the Committee stage is reached.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate the proposition which I have already advanced—that if it is just as equitable in all the circumstances that provision for these costs should be made out of public funds, then it cannot be other than unjust and inequitable to deny them.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Dick Taverne (Lincoln)
I am glad that the time for the debate was extended to this evening, because I wanted to make some points which I could not have made in Committee. I shall try to be brief, since this is a 165 fairly late hour at which to resume the debate, but this difficulty in which the Government find themselves in having to extend the time is part of the price which they are having to pay for taking an extra 14 days out of the beginning of the Session. I welcome the Bill, but my complaint is not about what is in it, but what is left out. I regret that this opportunity for passing a Legal Aid Bill has not been used to extend the scope of legal aid.
First, I am very sorry that it has not been used to extend the scope of legal aid in civil cases. There are many courts and public tribunals to which legal aid does not extend, and there is many a person who may be faced with a compulsory acquisition order who may have buried his savings in his house, only to find that he has to fight for his house and cannot get legal aid. I briefly place on record my regret that this position has not been tackled.
Secondly, a grave injustice still remains in certain criminal cases. I realise that the scope of legal aid Bills has not normally been to cover costs in criminal cases. However, they have been referred to on occasions in the past and Section 18 of the 1949 Act gave directions as to the circumstances in which a defence certificate should be given. They could have been dealt with by this Bill.
My main complaint is that the successful defendant who has not been legally aided and who does not qualify for a defence certificate does not get his costs in the normal course of circumstances, even though he is acquitted. The law says, "You may have lost earnings and you may have had a great deal of worry and you may have incurred a great deal of legal expense; you are now acquitted and you are to be regarded as innocent; but you are also to pay a fine, which may be many hundreds of pounds in legal costs and this will not be refunded". That does not seem to me to be justice.
It is sometimes said that a defendant who is successful can always have a remedy for malicious prosecution, but there are very few cases in which this remedy lies. If the police have acted with perfect bona fides, but have made a mistake, having taken a course of action which at the time seemed reason- 166 able but which later proved wrong, for instance, a perfectly bona fide mistake as to identity, there is no remedy for the successful defendant.
It is sometimes said that most of those who are acquitted are in any event guilty. I was once told that by a former Under-Secretary at the Home Office. That is a proposition which we must utterly reject. We cannot set ourselves up as a sort of second court and say that some people may be acquitted by a jury, but that we shall nevertheless regard them as guilty in some sense or in some degree and, therefore, fine them, or accept the fact that they may have to bear a considerable fine. We must accept that people who are acquitted are entitled to be regarded as innocent. At the moment, there are two classes of innocent people. First, there are those who are legally aided and properly acquitted. Secondly, there are those who are not legally aided and who have to bear a fine and pay their legal costs.
There are two possible solutions. The first is to alter the practice of awarding costs in criminal cases. The second, and the better and simpler, solution is to award a defence certificate to all. It may be said that this would be expensive, although there would undoubtedly still be a number of wealthy clients who, when facing criminal prosecution, would prefer to pay large fancy fees to expensive counsel. Whether or not it is expensive and although the vast majority of those who face criminal prosecution do get legal aid now, it is just, in any event, that a defence certificate should be available to all, because even if a man is guilty, he should not have to face a double penalty. A man who is aided pays whatever penalty is imposed by the law, but a man who is not aided pays costs as well.
The whole basis of legal aid in civil cases has teen to restore a man to the position in which he was otherwise as far as possible, so that, under the new Bill, a man who does not get his costs will now get them. Why should we not apply this principle more widely and apply it to criminal cases as well? We cannot have justice on the cheap, which has been recognised as the whole basis of legal aid. If we try, we do not have justice. Yet there is one large range of cases in which justice is not done.
167 For these reasons, I believe that the Bill is too restrictive. I do not oppose it. Indeed, I welcome it as far as it goes, but I hope that the Government can find their way to early action to remedy these injustices, and I regret that they did not take the opportunity of the Bill to do so.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (The High Peak)
Like the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne), I should like to allow myself the luxury of allowing my mind to range a little wider than the contents of the Bill, but on this occasion I will confine myself to the contents.
All of us with practice in the courts are familiar with the sort of case where final costs become more important than the damages likely to be awarded. It may be said of my own branch of the profession that we are aware of costs only as a sort of long-range deterrent and that all we know about them is the form of words by which we ask for them. Nevertheless, we are aware that later on there are many cases in which the successful litigant wins only a Pyrrhic victory, because most of his advantage is taken away when it comes to costs.
Like most hon. Members, I think that the greatest hardship normally falls on the litigant who finds himself just outside the limits of the Legal Aid Scheme. The Bill does at least something for him by giving him some assistance if he has been successful, successful as a defendant that is, against an assisted plaintiff.
With regard to Clause 1(3,b), quite frequently there are borderline cases where there is a claim and counter-claim, and the question as to which party commences those proceedings is really a matter of chance. To that extent I think that the provisions of this subsection, which states that the legally assisted person must at first instance instigate proceedings, are rather narrow. I suggest that the principles of hardship which run through the whole Legal Aid Scheme should be applied so that the words "severe financial hardship" can be interpreted as being similar to those principles on which legal aid itself is awarded. This would remove the possibility that someone just short of quali- 168 fication for legal aid would inevitably suffer more hardship than a Bill of this sort should envisage. On Friday I listened carefully to the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend, reported in column 1594 of Hansard, but I was not fully convinced by his argument and I stick to my suggestion.
It may be thought that I am to a certain extent trespassing on the Committee stage, but perhaps my comments might be taken as some indication to my right hon. and learned Friend of the sort of matter with which I shall be concerned at that stage. Clause 2 says that regulations may be made in respect of persons in a fiduciary, representative, or official capacity. I hope that such regulations will cover a small local authority such as a parish council. Quite frequently a parish council has a low penny rate product, and a small number of ratepayers. More than half the 7,500 parish councils in this country have a penny rate product of less than £100.
At present the burden of costs in an action successfully resisted against an assisted person falls on those ratepayers. My right hon. and learned Friend is no doubt familiar with the case of the Stone Parish Council which had the large sum of £9,000 damages awarded against it. The more relevant consideration is the fact that those proceedings lasted for four years.
I should like some assurance that the regulations, if framed under this Bill, will take account of such local authorities and ratepayers where the risk is an uninsurable or unforeseeable one. Provided I get an assurance on that point, I welcome the Bill.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I rise only to say that I have read the proceedings on Friday with great interest, and that I have listened with equal interest to what has been said today. There seems to be no dispute on either side of the House that the Bill, so far as it goes, and subject to certain Committee points, is acceptable.
I do not wish to repeat what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice). It seems clear that there are some Committee points of substance, 169 and perhaps I might mention two of them. One is with regard to the passage about severe financial hardship. It would be interesting to know what is the difference between "financial hardship" and "severe financial hardship". The other is the general exhortation to do that which is just and equitable in certain circumstances, with which we all have great sympathy, and of which we have no detailed knowledge.
I feel compassion for those who have been suffering severe oratorical hardship by not being here tonight and who will have to confine what they have to say to some Committee room, or even to this House sitting as a Committee. On the Bill there is very little more than that to be said at this stage, but I wish to say how much I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne). This will not be open to us in Committee. In questions of this sort the machinery for charging the process of such a legal institution as legal aid has now become is somewhat deficient.
There is a real case for matters of law reform, whether they amount as here to reforms of procedure or to reforms of rather more than that, having more attention than they get from any Government, particularly perhaps from a Government which is just facing the horrors of an unsuccessful General Election. I wish there were means by which this kind of question could be kept under constant review, and effectively kept under review, not necessarily only by Parliamentary means. There are law reform committees, as we all know. Alas, we all know how long the products of those committees lie on some table or other before they get on to the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The hon. and learned Member will, of course, appreciate that there is a report from the Law Society annually on the Legal Aid Scheme, and the Law Society recommended what is in this Bill as long ago as 1958 to 1959. There is that annual report to be considered.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am well aware of that, and I thank the hon. Member for reminding us all of the valuable work the Law Society does in this matter, but that does not meet the main point 170 raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln. I take only one of the two instances he gave. I think that there is a strong case for extending legal aid to proceedings before tribunals. I am not at all clear that that case has been properly considered, or is ever likely to be properly considered unless we can set up more machinery for the purpose.
I am well aware of the responsibilities of the Attorney-General in this House and hose of the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords, but they are occupied with many things and it is extremely difficult to ensure that these questions are looked at if they are examined only either by this House or by the professional bodies concerned. I am proud to be a member of the Bar, and always have been proud of it, but I think that the Bar has occasionally to remember that the community does not owe it a living. It is only by keeping the law up to date and by realising, for example, the modern importance of tribunals that this fine profession will justify its existence and possibly win some popularity.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir John Hobson)
With permission, I speak again in this debate in order to answer some of the points raised. I am glad that this Bill has had an almost universal welcome from those who have spoken, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and many others. Practically everyone welcomes it subject to one or two caveats more particularly in relation to Clause 1(3,b).
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering twitted the Government that in its last year before a General Election it would find it difficult to advert to law reform. He seems to have overlooked, first, that we have this Bill which is a major law reform arising from a Legal Aid Measure secondly, there is a Bill before the House to give powers to the Court of Criminal Appeal to order a new trial on new evidence becoming available, and, finally, that the Home Secretary will tell the House about his 171 measures for dealing with compensation for victims of crime.
In one year and, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says, in particular this year, for that programme of law reform to be already before the House is not too bad. In addition, there is a Private Member's Bill dealing with the order of speeches in criminal trials, which is a substantial matter in practice. The House and the Government are acute to bring about law reform, and I do not believe that more machinery means more action.
I will deal with a few of the points which have been raised. First, the right hon. and learned Member for Newport asked whether the Financial Resolution is so framed as to allow an Amendment which would increase the cost of the Bill. The answer is "Yes". The Financial Resolution will support whatever is put into the Bill in Committee or at any other stage in its progress through both Houses, but it would not allow an Amendment to give additional benefits to an assisted person, because this is a Bill which is dealing with nothing except the position of unassisted persons and it is not intended in any way to deal with the scope of the help which can be given under the legal aid scheme to assisted persons.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether the judges should not have more guidance on the sort of thing which they ought to consider in respect of "just and equitable" and "severe financial hardship". It is true that costs as a general rule are entirely in the discretion of the court, and the phrase that the award should be "whatever is just and equitable" is a hallowed phrase indicating to the court that it must do what it thinks right and has as wide a discretion as it is possible to have. Perhaps in the connotation of this Bill it might also draw the attention of the court to the fact that it has to take into account that any award that it makes will be coming out of public funds, not merely out of the pocket of one party or another, not for the benefit of one party or for the disadvantage of another, but that it may well be the public funds which will have to bear the burden of any Order which it makes.
I submit to the House that it is much better to leave it to the court to exer- 172 cise a wide discretion. If we try to tie its hands or to give it directions or to indicate circumstances that it ought to take into account, the usual result is that the court thinks that that is the totality of the direction and that a large number of other things ought not to be considered. Once we cease to give the court a wide discretion and try to limit it in any way, we find that this produces consequences which are unexpected and perhaps undesirable.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether the Bill should not state what sort of things the court should take into account in deciding whether there is severe financial hardship. The issue there is whether there will be severe financial hardship to the unassisted litigant. This is the relevant question. It is only hardship to him which is relevant. To specify details as to what the court ought to consider in the context of that question is likely to be more limiting and unhelpful than to give the court a fairly wide discretion to take into consideration all the circumstances and to answer the simple question whether the unassisted litigant who has been successful will or will not in all the circumstances suffer severe financial hardship.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked, "When will an unassisted party get his costs and might he have to wait a long time for them?" Unless the court at first instance says that costs shall not be taxed until after an appeal or the time for an appeal has run out, there is nothing to prevent the winning party in an ordinary case who is awarded costs at first instance, where both sides are unassisted, from having his costs taxed and recovering them.
In practice, however, it is common for the parties not to have their bills of costs taxed until the appeal has been heard or the time for appealing has run out. It does not usually take more than five or six months before an appeal is heard by the Court of Appeal at the present time. If a case goes to the House of Lords it is common for the costs incurred in the court of first instance and the Court of Appeal to be taxed and paid after judgment in the Court of Appeal.
It follows that the unassisted party in whose favour an order is made under the 173 Bill may have to wait longer for his costs to be paid than he would had he sued another unassisted party. But if the case goes only to the Court of Appeal and he has to wait six months for his costs, he will merely be conforming to the common practice and be no worse off. It is only the unusual case which goes to the House of Lords where he will be worse off than if both parties had been unassisted. In such cases he will almost certainly have to wait longer than if he were opposed by an unassisted party.
The reason is that it is not considered wise or safe to pay out of public funds a sum of money which should never have been paid out and which might not be recoverable. It is for this reason only that the payment cannot be made until the whole of the proceedings have been concluded. However, this is really a different point and one which we can consider in Committee.
The hon. and learned Gentleman asked what is to happen if a person who is sued puts in a counter claim in which he is successful. That can be dealt with under the regulations which may determine which of the proceedings shall be regarded as those begun by an unassisted person and in which he is a defendant. They raise difficult problems of practice and procedure which may be altered by the rules of the court. There is the question of the counter-claim, the third party proceedings and interpleader proceedings and cross-petitions in divorce.
While it would be possible to legislate on the practice of the court as at today and to provide in the Bill or in a Schedule to it for every circumstance of every form of proceedings which might be taken in all circumstances, it was thought that it would be desirable that this should be done by regulations which, after all, have to be brought to this House and, I would remind hon. Members, are under the control of this House, and which may more conveniently alter the practice or procedure of the court.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I assume that there is no intention, under Clause 2(1,a), of selecting causes of action to be included or excluded under the definition of separate proceedings?
§ The Attorney-General
I understand that there is no intention of segregating different types of proceedings. It is the 174 procedure which is to be separated, but I will certainly consider that matter and let my hon. Friend know if my answer is not correct. However, I understand that there is no intention of segregating particular causes of action from other causes of action.
The hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether it is not better to put in the Bill a provision concerning the cost of unassisted litigants who are acting in a fiduciary representative or official capacity. I suppose that it could be put into the Bill, but it would be an enormously lengthy proceeding to do so. It would, it was thought, throw the Bill very much out of balance. It would have to be seen that every case was covered and if it was found that there was a casus omissus, or additional cases that should be taken in, it would then be necessary to come back to the House to deal with and amend the Bill.
The circumstances in which there can arise this problem of the fiduciary representative or official litigant who is unassisted will be numerous and it is thought that it will only be as a result of experience that we will be able to see the full import of what is involved in these cases. They will not be very numerous and they are not a very major part of the cases of unassisted successful litigants. They are important to the persons concerned, but to have put the whole of a code of directions into the Bill, or in a Schedule to it, would, it is thought, have, in the end, been an inconvenience and better dealt with by regulation. However, if any hon. Member likes to put down a Schedule in Committee as to every way they should be dealt with then no doubt the Government will consider how comprehensive or satisfactory it is.
I come now to the major point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and others about the expression "severe financial hardship". This is a major point of criticism, and I agree with all those who have said that, on Second Reading, we ought to discuss the matter fully. I am grateful for all that has been said, and I shall draw the comments of all who have spoken to the attention of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor so that he may consider the question before we reach the Committee 175 stage. It is an advantage that we have had the opportunity for these views to be expressed.
One comes back in the end to the question whether we are to pay all the costs of every successful unassisted litigant, including insurance companies and those to whom the amount of the costs of a county court action make not the slightest difference. The total effect of paying the whole of those costs in every circumstance would be to put a very heavy burden upon public funds and would, as I said initially, put the successful unassisted litigant in a far stronger position than if he had been sued by an impecunious person who happened not to have legal aid, because he would be guaranteed his costs. Therefore, there must be some division.
As the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) said on Friday, merely to say "hardship" is insufficient because every payment of costs out of one's own pocket is, in a sense, a hardship. To say "financial hardship" is, in my submission to the House, to add very little more, except that this is a financial question. One could imagine a formula being devised to the effect that, if the total amount one had to pay amounted to more than one-fifth of one's net income or one-fifth of one's capital, or more than a total of one-fifth of both, then one should have help. On some such basis, one might say that a person coming within the financial formula should have his costs and a person not coming within it should not. However, this would probably lead to great complication. We should have to establish a complete code covering everything which had to be taken into account.
It has been thought better to use a formula which is quite general and which will give wide discretion to the court because these are all matters of degree. At one end, we start with the very rich man or enormously rich corporation which has a bill of costs of £25 or £50 in the county court which makes not the slightest difference. At the other end, we have the class of person referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Walder), the person who is just outside legal aid but who has very few resources indeed and to whom a bill of £50 might make a very great difference.
176 It is, therefore, difficult to take into account every case and legislate precisely for exactly who is to be and who is not to be on one side of the line or the other. The formula which has been adopted, therefore, to assist the successful unassisted litigant under the scheme should be fairly restricted to deal with cases of real hardship.
My noble Friend considered whether he should use the expression "exceptional hardship" which is used in the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950. There is the expression "greater hardship" which is used in the Rent Act. There is "undue hardship" used in the Arbitration Act. Also, there is the expression "substantial hardship". "Substantial hardship" was rejected because it is regarded as an inappropriate term to use in relation to matrimonial proceedings as it may be said that there is always a substantial hardship if a wife brings unfounded charges against her husband, who succeeds in his defence but who, unless she has a separate estate, does not recover his costs and may have to pay hers.
The courts should have fairly wide discretion. It is essential that they should be given an indication that, at the inception of the scheme at least, it should be the cases of real hardship that are being dealt with. This is why the phrase "severe financial hardship" has been chosen. As I have said, however, I will draw to my noble Friend's attention all that has been said about this in the course of the debate and, no doubt, we shall return to this in Committee.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal, not with the Government's intentions over other matters, but over the matter which I put to him: that is, whether they have it in mind to extend legal aid to tribunals?
§ The Attorney-General
I was coming to that.
The extension of legal aid for assisted persons is outside the scope of the Bill, because it deals with the provisions about who shall be assisted. To deal, however, with that point and with the point raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne), the Legal Aid Act provides that the Lord Chancellor 177 can by regulation extend legal aid, at least to courts, and there may be a power to extend it to tribunals. Section 1(3) of the 1949 Act enables legal aid for assisted persons to be extended by regulation, very widely indeed.
That, however, is outside the scope of the Bill and, no doubt, on another occasion, if the hon. and learned Member wishes an answer, he will put down a Question and allow time for a considered answer to be given to the point. As I have said, that was the main point raised against the Bill. I have no doubt that we shall return to it in Committee. I look forward to seeing the proposals of all those who would like to improve on the formula which the Government have used and the Government will, of course, consider everything that is said then as well as today.
The point was raised very fairly by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, and was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton, that part of the cost of all the legal aid is the position of the Bar and the way that its members operate. It may not be generally known, although the fact has been published, that the Bar is itself considering actively what can be done about these matters. It has set up a committee of its own, under Mr. Gerald Gardiner, and comprising others of its members, to make recommendations to the Bar Council and to the Bar generally about what should be done concerning the circuit rule and a number of other matters. It is, therefore, actively engaging upon that matter. That is a general question, and the Bill deals solely with the point as to the unassisted litigant.
While a number of other points have been raised, they were to a great extent Committee points. If I have not dealt with any of them, perhaps hon. Members who have raised them will write to me and I will endeavour to deal with them. As the principle of the Bill is generally accepted, I hope that the House will now give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although the form of the Bill applies principally to people who are defending actions against legal-aided persons, among others, the effect of it also carries over to people who are deciding whether 178 to defend an action brought against them and who, under the existing system and the Bill as published, would in many cases agree to pay damages for which they were not liable rather than submit to the costs of successfully defending the action?
The Attorney-General: Certainly; of course. That is quite right. One of the risks of litigation is whether a person may win but get no costs. The effect of the Bill will be that people will know that if it is a very heavy action, of the Auten v. Rayner type, and they have few funds, they will almost certainly, if they win, get their costs out of the Legal Aid Fund. Others will know quite well that they have no chance at all and there will be some who will not be certain one way or other whether they will, and they will have to make an estimate of their chances of getting anything out of the fund.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. I. Fraser.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.