The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is continuing to work towards April 2020 to implement the whiplash reforms despite the upcoming election, it has confirmed.
With questions mounting over whether the deadline can be met in any case, campaigners have suggested that the election ‘purdah’ period may make it impossible.
Paul Nicholls, chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, said: “Already faced with a long list of thorny policy and technical issues to overcome, the announcement of a general election in December surely makes it impossible to meet the planned timetable of implementing the motor accident claim reforms in April 2020.
“Before ministers go off to campaign and officials go into lockdown during the purdah period, the Ministry of Justice should formally announce that implementation is to be delayed to a later date.”
However, a ministry spokeswoman said officials were still working towards April 2020, although it would ultimately depend on the outcome of the election.
Given Labour’s opposition to the Civil Liability Act 2018, it seems likely that the reforms will be scrapped should the party win power.
It is understood that the Motor Insurers Bureau will continue to work on the portal that will underlie the new regime. But with the MoJ unable to give political direction in the coming weeks, it will be left waiting for outstanding policy decisions to be made.
These include how alternative dispute resolution will be dealt with in the portal and whether the damages tariffs laid out previously needs to be updated.
Mr Nicholls added: “As ministers themselves have stressed, the process should not be rushed. It is in no-one interests to have a botched system which does not protect motor accident victims from the outset.
“Everyone across the claims sector need clarity to plan and prepare for the future and MoJ should do the right thing and make an early announcement about a delay.”
In a blog, Alistair Kinley, director of policy & government affairs at defendant firm BLM, said the impact of the election remained unclear, but the timetable “now looks to depend on broadly the same administration being returned… and on it re-adopting these reforms as a short to medium term priority”.
Another problem was the “quite limited” time available for the Civil Procedure Rule Committee to work on the fine detail of the reforms.
“Its most recent communication (of 31 October 2019) tends to suggest that matters would ordinarily need to be resolved by early December to allow adequate time to introduce secondary regulations taking effect in April. It is far from clear that whiplash-related matters will be fully resolved within this timescale.”
The election also looks set to scupper hopes that the MoJ’s long-awaited response to part 2 of the whiplash consultation – which closed on 6 January 2017 – would be published by the end of 2019, and could also put the brakes on the consultation on fixed recoverable costs in clinical negligence cases worth up to £25,000.