Bermuda’s barristers have launched a bid to make it easier for people to undertake expensive civil proceedings in court.

And the Island’s legal profession want Government to change the law to allow “no win, no fee” and “success fee” arrangements to allow more people to raise civil actions in court.

Bermuda Bar Association president Justin Williams said that a subcommittee, under leading lawyer Mark Chudleigh, had looked at different ways of funding legal actions.

Mr Williams added: “With legal aid limited to genuine cases of financial hardship, civil litigation in Bermuda has become largely the preserve of wealthy corporations and individuals.

“For the average Bermudian, the cost of civil litigation effectively excludes them from access to the courts.

“The ability to offer alternative fee arrangements has the potential to improve access to justice for those with meritorious claims but limited means to prosecute them.”

Mr Williams was speaking as he addressed the Bermuda Bar Association on Friday at a meeting in Supreme Court to mark the start of the new legal year.

He added: “The subcommittee has recommended that the Bar Association should lobby the government to introduce legislation to permit the use of conditional fees arrangements — including ‘no win, no fee’ and ‘success fee’ arrangements — and to clarify the legality of litigation funding whereby a third party agrees to fund the cost of litigation in return for a share of the litigation proceeds.”

A success fee is when, in the event of a victory in court, the lawyer representing the successful plaintiff is able to increase their fees on a percentage basis.

Similar changes to civil action funding have already been made in England and Wales and Australia, which share a common legal structure with Bermuda.

The committee was set up last year after Chief Justice Ian Kawaley called for changes in the way litigation is funded in a speech to members of the Bermuda Bar.

Mr Kawaley told the profession: “The cost of civil justice is a major threat to the ability of ordinary litigants to enjoy the right of access to the court which is an element of the right to a fair hearing in civil cases.

“The scope of legal aid has been cut.

“A Bermudian equivalent of conditional fees is desperately needed to allow the costs of publicly funded litigation to be reduced without depriving deserving litigants of access to justice.”

Mr Williams added that — due to the economic downturn — would-be Bermuda lawyers were finding it difficult to find scholarships and pupillages to allow them to qualify to be Called to the Bar.

But he said the Bermuda Bar had set up a scholarship in the name of Dame Lois Browne Evans, a former Government Minister and Attorney General, with a new candidate selected this year.

Mr Williams added: “We have also arranged with the elite Carmelite Chambers of London for a Bermudian to continue to receive training through Carmelite Chambers.”

He added that continuing education — to keep Island lawyers up to speed on legal developments — would be improved.

Mr Williams said the Bar Council will also examine ways for barristers to qualify as Queen’s Counsel, known as “taking silk”, by having Bermuda barristers included in the QC selection process for England and Wales in London.

There have been no Bermudian QCs appointed for a decade after barristers voted to revoke the rules governing taking silk amid concerns over transparency and objectivity in the local process.


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