The second most senior judge in the United Kingdom, Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls and Head of the Civil Justice, has said in a speech that "we should remind ourselves of what the law actually requires and do what we can to explode the false perception of compensation culture".
Speaking at the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire's Annual Law Lecture, Dyson described how media stories about claimants being paid huge sums in compensation in cases involving minor injuries are furthering "the perception that something has gone badly wrong with civil justice in this country", when they are often simply not true.
"The reality of what goes on in our courts does not match the perception that we are in the grip of a compensation culture," Dyson said in a speech on 13 October.
He was speaking about the Magna Carta and how the document - 800 years old this year - led to a civil justice system that enshrined ideas of compensation. He went on to say many stories have been circulated about a supposed "culture of compensation" which the reality did not match.
"Courts are well aware of the dangers of contributing to the idea that all injuries should result in compensatory awards," said Dyson, citing a number of examples in which UK judges acted in a much more reasonable manner than current perception would assume.
Though, he did take aim at "enterprising solicitors" who "advertise their services on boards close to hospitals" and who encourage patients to sue the NHS as the solicitors are "only too aware" that "the NHS is often willing to pay a claimant a sum to buy off a claim, even one which it considers is likely to fail" because of legal costs "out of all proportion to the amount of damages that it will have to pay if the claim is successful".
Because of a "false shadow of the law" created by this perception, threats of litigation might lead to settlements that would not have been made if the law had been properly understood - the solution to this, Dyson said, "is to introduce reasonable and proportionate fixed legal costs" to assuage the incentive to simply settle.
Read the full text of the speech.