A CLAF is an actively managed pool of money intended to fund legal costs. The cases which a CLAF would fund would be those which are considered to be worthwhile but outside the scope of the current civil legal aid regime. The CLAF would be managed by financial professionals who would determine whether claims should be supported. Successful claims would pay a reasonable
proportion of their winnings back into the CLAF pool which would in turn fund future claims.

The report - The Merits of a Contingent Legal Aid Fund - is published in anticipation of an impor tant review of costs and access to justice being conducted by Lord Justice Jackson, expected in December. A consultation will begin on 8 May.

The Jackson Review, commissioned by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke is examining radical changes to the current costs regime, including the possible abolition of conditional fee agreements (CFAs) and caps on costs related to the value of the claim being made. Today's CLAF repor t revisits and substantially updates a proposal first floated by the Bar Council in a repor t in 1998.

Guy Mansfield QC said:

‘We have formed the firm provisional view that a CLAF in the broad sense has much to offer and should be pursued fur ther.

Impor tantly, we have concluded that a CLAF should not be seen as a replacement for conventional legal aid or indeed CFAs but as a useful supplement. The model we favour is a self-funding, not-for-profit scheme or mutual fund.

A CLAF would help those who do not currently qualify for legal aid, including sole traders or pensioners with some assets, to enforce their rights to legitimate compensation. The successful claimant would pay a fair proportion of the damages back into the CLAF fund, enabling others to be helped in this way.’

The Mansfield group's repor t makes clear the extent to which the legal aid landscape has changed in the decade since the Bar Council's previous CLAF proposal was tabled.

The main changes have been fur ther cuts in civil legal aid, growth in CFAs, ever-rising litigation costs and the emergence of third par ty litigation funding. Guy Mansfield QC said:

‘The funding of litigation has changed fundamentally in the past ten years, and the CLAF now looks like an idea whose time has come’

Responding to the repor t, Bar Council Vice Chairman, Nicholas Green QC, said:

‘It is a testament to the strength of the CLAF concept that it still bears scrutiny today.

To address the lack of available public funds and to provide effective access to justice we need imaginative solutions and I am grateful to Guy Mansfield and his group for the work they have done to develop the CLAF idea for the 21st century.

The Bar Council will want to examine this thinking closely but it can at once be seen that the essence of this idea could offer real advantages and be in the public interest.'