This article first appeared in the The Law Society Gazette, 17th October 2019
A claimant chief has denounced potential compensation levels for RTA victims as arbitrary and ridiculous, as questions continue to mount about the new portal for claims.
Paul Nicholls, chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, told its annual conference yesterday that the Ministry of Justice should delay implementing the portal rather than rushing to meet its April 2020 deadline.
The MoJ is setting up a new system for making RTA claims valued at less than £5,000, designed to be used by litigants in person as well as those represented by lawyers. But there remain serious doubts about the details, with no word yet on new civil procedure rules, costs involved with disputed claims or multiple injuries, or the tariff levels for setting damages.
Nicholls said MASS had pressed the MoJ through freedom of information requests to answer where its figures for the tariff were coming from. The initial response was ‘real life data’, court judgments and the Judicial College assessments. When it was further asked who decided the figures, given the proposed numbers are way below judicial guidelines, MASS was told it was ‘analysts’ and ‘MoJ officials’.
Nicholls questioned why civil servants were seen as better placed to decide damages than judges and pledged that MASS would publish its own analysis on where the tariffs should be set.
‘It is the view of MASS that the tariff figures are arbitrary, ridiculous, and have no bearing on ‘real life data’, judgments, or the guidelines set by the Judicial College,’ said Nicholls. ‘And we shall be making that case rigorously in the coming weeks. We must take action.’
The tariff levels are expected to be lower at every level than currently awarded. Nicholls gave as one example that compensation for a two-year injury will reduce from £7,000 to £3,750 – artificially bringing these claims within the portal threshold.
Nicholls said a range of other issues remain unresolved, even with testing of the new system due to begin before the end of this year. These uncertainties include what happens if liability is disputed, how duplicate proceedings will be dealt with, and what provision will be made for the so-called ‘digitally excluded’.
Nicholls added: ‘From what we have seen so far, the new portal will probably deal well with a straightforward claim with no special issues or disputed liability. But if one or more of a myriad of problematic issues arise, the system as currently designed will falter.’
One area that will require addressing is changes to the civil procedure rules to enable the portal to go ahead. According to minutes for the CPRC meeting for July, published this week, the matter was due to return to the committee earlier this month.
At the July meeting, the minutes show committee chair Lord Justice Coulson emphasised caution in devising a system which was ‘so radical that it generated a potential need for two sets of rules covering differing practices for represented and unrepresented parties, because that would be a significant shift in policy’.