Intended for healthcare professionals


The legal aid folly that damages us all

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 22 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:239
  1. Dick Taverne (, Liberal Democrat peer
  1. chairman of Sense About Science (, and former barrister (QC)

    In medical matters it is surprising how often the law, in Mr Bumble's words, proves to be “an ass,” as two recent prominent cases demonstrate.

    The first was a claim against manufacturers of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. As long ago as 1994 legal aid was granted to a group of parents who were opposed to immunisation (and who were strong believers in homoeopathy), for an action claiming that MMR causes brain damage, epilepsy, arthritis, and autoimmune disease. After Andrew Wakefield's 1998 Lancet article (Lancet 1998;351: 637), the number of plaintiffs was expanded and the claim concentrated on the allegation that MMR causes autism. Legal aid for the claim was eventually withdrawn in September 2003 on the grounds that the action was unlikely to succeed. By then it had cost the taxpayer £15m.

    This team was quite clearly not adequately qualified to investigate possible causes of autism

    Legal aid in claims for damages for personal injury, which is granted by …

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