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Guidance Notes for Legal Advice & Assistance Scheme

Last updated: 16 October 2020

MU Rules stipulate that legal advice and assistance are provided under such criteria as are established by the MU’s Executive Committee (EC) (Rule I.3.c) and that the grant of legal assistance is made at the EC’s discretion (Rule V.10). The EC has established the following criteria defining the scope of, and qualification for, legal advice.

Privacy and consent

Please also note that providing legal assistance (as opposed to legal advice only) under the Scheme will involve disclosing your membership of the MU to third parties, and that your consent is required for such disclosure under Data Protection legislation.

If you withhold such consent on the Request Form this may restrict or preclude the MU’s ability to assist you.

Legal Costs

In general you will be expected to pay court fees for your Simple Procedure/Small Claims case, but if successful these are recoverable from your opponent.

You may not have to pay court fees if you are on Income Support, income based Job Seekers Allowance, or other benefits. The MU’s In House Solicitor can advise you how to claim any fee exemption to which you may be entitled.

Court fees will be different depending on whether you’re based in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England.

Your claim may also involve other expenses such as enquiry agents or a barrister, but in Simple Procedure/Small Claims cases these are not generally recoverable from the other side.

Please be aware that even if you obtain judgment against your opponent, there is no guarantee that you will be successful in enforcing that judgment and recovering damages or court fees or expenses. Recovery of legal costs and expenses in Simple Procedure/Small Claims cases is extremely limited by law, and your opponent’s ability to pay is a major consideration in all litigation.

If your claim is dealt with by an outside solicitor under external legal assistance, the MU will indemnify you as we explained under Outsourced Cases, but you should not do anything which could limit or preclude recovery of costs from your opponent if you are successful.

Even if successful, the costs recoverable from your opponent may not be as much as the costs payable to your solicitor. If unsuccessful, the MU not only indemnifies you in respect of your own solicitors’ costs, but also in respect of any costs awarded against you in favour of your opponent.

However, please note the MU won’t protect you against any damages or compensation you may be ordered to pay in respect of any claim or counter-claim made against you.

Settlement of your dispute

The MU expects you to consider any reasonable settlement proposal put forward if it is to continue assisting with, and particularly financing, your litigation.

Pursuing a claim through to trial can become disproportionately expensive compared to the value of the claim and extremely demanding of Officials’ or indeed solicitors’ time. The aim of the Scheme is to conduct litigation on a cost-effective basis with a view to early resolution of the dispute in line with the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, and hopefully, in line with your reasonable expectations.

Appeals against refusal of legal assistance

The EC’s discretion under Rule V.10 allows it to consider appeals from members where legal assistance is refused, although it will generally only waive its own criteria in exceptional circumstances.

If you wish to appeal a decision to refuse you legal assistance you should set out your grounds for appeal in writing on the Appeal Form (obtainable from your Regional Office) specifying why you consider each of the relevant criteria should be waived in your case, and return it to your Regional Office, who will submit it to the Legal Panel and subsequently advise you of the outcome of your appeal.

The EC has authorized the MU’s Legal Panel (comprising the General Secretary and the Assistant General Secretaries) to consider appeals, and generally it will be the Legal Panel that considers your appeal unless it decides to refer the matter for consideration at the next EC meeting.

Please note the EC has also given instructions (under Rule V.3) that the Legal Panel should only waive established criteria in exceptional circumstances.

Your file

You should not send original documents to the MU unless specifically asked to do so. Unless you request in writing that your file is sent to you, it will normally be held in storage by the MU for six years after conclusion of the matter and closure of the file, following which it will be destroyed without further notice.

Insurance

The MU’s external solicitors are subject to compulsory insurance against professional negligence under the Solicitors’ Indemnity Insurance Rules, as are all solicitors in private practice.

As employed solicitors, the MU’s In-house Solicitor is not subject to compulsory insurance under these Rules, but all the MU’s Officials who provide advice and assistance, including the MU’s In-house, are insured by the MU against negligence.

Complaints

If your claim is being dealt with by an external solicitor they will provide you with details of their firm’s complaints procedure. If you are unhappy with the service provided by the MU, please take the matter up, in writing, with your Regional Organiser in the first instance, and if you remain  unsatisfied, you may write to the General Secretary at National Office.

If the matter still cannot be resolved it may be referred for independent third party mediation and/or arbitration.