This article first appeared in the Law Society Gazette, 12th February 2018
By John Hyde
Ministry of Justice officials have confirmed to personal injury lawyers that key reforms affecting the sector will be implemented next year.
The Motor Accidents Solicitors’ Society reported today that ministers have agreed for reforms to be implemented from April 2019. The initial focus will be on implementing the changes in relation to RTA claims, with further personal injury reforms coming later.
Officials believe they can progress the Civil Liability Bill through parliament in the next 14 months, and with it a tariff system for soft tissue injury damages. The plan remains to bring in this bill at the same time as the new £5,000 small claims limit for RTA claims, which requires secondary legislation.
The news was confirmed at a meeting of MoJ officials and the strategic alliance of MASS, the Law Society and the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.
Simon Stanfield, chair of MASS, said his organisation will continue to fight the proposed changes at every opportunity. ‘If parliament approves the plans and they do proceed, there are still huge questions about how it would be implemented, operated and how the worst consequences can be limited. There is an enormous amount for the government to sort out if it is to hit its April 2019 target date.’
Brett Dixon, APIL president, said ministers have at least taken on board arguments about the importance of introducing changes in stages and not immediately including employers’ liability and public liability claims.
He added: ‘That the reforms will go ahead at all is, of course, unwelcome news to injured people, but APIL will use its seat at the table to help to safeguard access to justice for injured people as far as possible. There is still a lot of work to do in the next 14 months.’
The revised small claims limit would effectively rule out solicitors from recovering their costs for any cases worth less than £5,000, which is believed to account for around 96% of RTA claims.
The reforms have been on the table since George Osborne’s autumn statement in November 2015 and were included in the Prisons and Courts Bill last year, which succumbed to the parliamentary time restrictions caused by the snap general election.
Insurers say motorists will save around £35 on their motor premiums and have pledged to pass on the benefits of the reforms. Commentators have predicted that thousands of jobs could be at risk if the changes are implemented in full.
Reforms are being scrutinised by an ongoing inquiry from the House of Commons justice committee which is due to report in the coming weeks.
Law Society president Joe Egan noted the timeline for introducing the whiplash reforms had been made public before the justice select committee has had a chance to issue its report.
Egan said: ‘In our submission to the select committee we outlined the extensive steps that can be required in low-value personal injury claims. We also highlighted new research findings that show 76% of medical experts would not accept instructions from claimants without a lawyer.
‘These changes will mean people injured through no fault of their own will struggle to get justice. The Law Society does not accept that these limits are reasonable and we continue to oppose these reforms.’