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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I certainly did hear that suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in his interesting speech, and certainly I shall consider it. The proposition appears to be that solicitors should divide themselves into two classes: those who do cases on CLAF and those who do cases on conditional fee agreements. By giving an immediate response today,I do not desire to suggest that I shall not consider the suggestion fully. Of course I shall consider it fully and carefully. However, my first reaction is that I do not really see that it meets the point that many cases which would otherwise go into the CLAF would be taken by those parts of the profession that would opt for conditional fee agreements to the exclusion of the CLAF, with the adverse economic consequences for the CLAF that I see.
It is also worth noting that the Bar's fund would not be open to all kinds of case. To illustrate how the fund might eventually be self-financing, and might make relatively modest claim on the taxpayer in the meantime, I have noted that the proposal confines itself to categories of case in which there are, relatively speaking, good prospects of securing good damages.
I have the gravest doubts as to whether the proposal could be made as attractive as it may seem at first sight. But we have invited views. If there is a genuine prospect of a self-financing fund, I suggest that it is a fair point that it could find financial backing in the private sector. In principle, the Government would welcome that as an additional means of improving access to justice.
I conclude on the following basis. We are ready to listen to any comments or proposals. We have opened a consultation process lasting until 30th April. I shall reflect with care on everything that was said during tonight's debate and will read it carefully in the Hansard report tomorrow. Although few speakers have participated, we have had a valuable debate. As I said, I shall consider the matter. However, I have to confess that, at first blush, I am not persuaded that we are fundamentally wrong in the broad approach that we are putting forward. But, my Lords, we will see.
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