On my recent holiday I had time to reflect upon the possible impact of two opinions that have grated with me for some time. First, there were the inflammatory comments about lawyers by Jack Straw at the Modern Claims Conference in Manchester in June. Lawyers didn’t invent whiplash. It is a genuine injury that can cause significant pain and loss of amenity with the most severe cases lasting in excess of 18-24 months. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to have suffered from whiplash will strongly testify to its pain and debilitating effects.
Straw, however, said in clear terms that hundreds of thousands of people, their legal representatives, physiotherapists and medical experts are lying. That they have and are still committing fraud and perjury. He is also saying that hundreds of judges have been duped. He is either severely and willfully mistaken or he is quite simply lying. History will of course judge Mr. Straw’s honesty and integrity on a range of matters and the early signs are not good.
The second and more troubling comment was the introduction of the concept of “unnecessary claims” by former Justice Minister Lord Faulks. Without providing any definition, he potentially opened the door for the government to sweep aside centuries of legal rights, not just in PI claims but across the legal spectrum. Should it be challenged, it is for the courts to determine the merits of a claim, not a civil servant attempting to draft a workable definition of “unnecessary”, nor indeed a politician to legislate away our rights. The difference with the comments by Jack Straw is that whilst I fundamentally disagree with Lord Faulks, it is an opinion.
Now Lord Faulks has departed from the MoJ, the folder marked whiplash and personal injury will be passed on to a new minister – or spokesperson, once the confusion over who has responsibility for civil justice is resolved. It may be wishful thinking to suggest that the MoJ will see sense and decide not to proceed with the package of measures announced by the former Chancellor and actively promoted by Lord Faulks. But that is what they should be doing, focusing on a range of practical measures to combat fraud, many of which were suggested by the Insurance Fraud Taskforce and the CMC Review. The concept of ‘unnecessary claims’ will hopefully have departed the building with its proponent.