Experts in most fields have been having a tough time in recent years. Their knowledge and advice have been regularly rejected for being opinionated, self-interested or running contrary to the wishes of large vocal groups. Although in very particular circumstances, the same has been happening to experts in the claims process.
In its wisdom the Ministry of Justice has decided that the expertise and knowledge of claimant solicitors is largely unnecessary and is putting in place a system riddled with obstacles. Claimants will still have the option, we are told at every opportunity, to seek expert legal advice, but the practical and financial hurdles will in reality make it significantly less likely. Insurers will of course still be armed with the legal muscle of defendant solicitors making the likelihood of that concept, inequality of arms, several factors more likely.
Then there is the ridiculous situation where litigants-in-person are expected to understand and process the implications of expertly produced medical reports. Under the future process, these are not just soft tissue reports but could be on a variety of injuries.
A degree of automation in the claims process was always inevitable and the digitilisation of claims through the new online portal is the natural next step in that process. The rapid scientific advances in artificial intelligence means that huge amounts of data can be processed rapidly to determine the validity of an accident claim.
Whilst this is to be welcomed in many areas, it must not be at the expense of expert legal assistance. Humans still have the edge in problem solving, seeing the bigger picture and in providing support through reassurance, sympathy and advice. Away from the cold calculations of a claim, experienced legal advice should still be essential to the process of navigating accident victims, many of whom will be traumatised or in physical pain. To relegate these experts to a non-essential status will be a retrograde step and can only further damage justice.
Paul Nicholls, author of “Digitalisation of the expert” is Chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) and Senior Partner at Nicholls Brimble Bhol
This article first appeared in Modern Law Magazine, Issue 43, March 2020