Problem

Prohibitive legal costs

Other Names:
Exhorbitant legal fees
Rising costs of legal aid
Risk of incurring legal expenses
Extortionate legal costs
Nature:
Due to the need to pay lawyers' fees, economic factors prevent many from protecting their rights before the civil courts or administrative tribunals and prevent many accused from properly defending themselves. These factors apply afresh if appeal is envisaged. Furthermore, the very constitutional provisions which contain guarantees concerning aspects of a fair hearing lose effectiveness if an individual is prevented by these financial factors from going to court to avail himself of those guarantees.

Such economic problems are aggravated where there is incomplete or no statutory or other limitation on the fees which may be charged for various types of legal services. This may put litigation beyond the reach of some persons; and in other cases, a litigant may be able to command only the advice of counsel of a lesser competence. The very uncertainty of the cost of a legal action often prevents poor persons from enforcing their rights or compels them to accept a compromise which may not be just.

The cost of litigation is increased in a few countries by the fact that one category of lawyer has a monopoly of advocacy before the higher courts while the professional services of this category may be engaged by the individual only through his first approaching a second category of lawyer. This necessitates the payment of fees to lawyers of both types even if the case is to be heard only in the higher courts. The cost may be particularly high where a case has already been conducted in the lower courts by a lawyer of the second category and the pleading has then to be taken over by one of the first category in order to conduct an appeal.

Public interest demands that in criminal cases the accused should be legally represented. This stems from the practices and procedures of the courts. In an adversarial system, where the judges do not directly determine the breadth and scope of the evidence, and are there mainly to control the forensic process and adjudicate between disputants, the lawyers themselves are primarily to blame for the growing length of time needed to hear cases and the accompanying rise in costs.

Incidence:
The cost to tax payers to clear up crime is extremely high. For example, in the UK once detectives are called in it costs £550 per case. In 1998, $8.1 billion was awarded to a group of lawyers in the USA for the work they did in assisting three states to win a settlement from the tobacco industry, with the possibility that a group of 250-450 lawyers would receive between $20 and 25 billion in fees.
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
12.05.2000 – 00:00 CEST