With the continuing impacts of Covid-19, motor accident victims have had a tough time throughout the pandemic. Whilst the number of car journeys fell dramatically during the national lockdown, accidents still occurred, particularly amongst pedestrians and cyclists, and there was more speeding and dangerous driving. Motor accident victims have faced more limited police resources, traumatic conditions in hospitals for relatives and severe restrictions on bereaved families. They have been discharged as quickly as possible to free-up hospital capacity for dealing with Covid-19 patients, often with little or no support, increased waiting times for further surgery and access to only limited rehabilitation. With most courts closed during the coronavirus lockdown, civil claims are being pushed back even further in the growing backlog of cases.
There have been several measures introduced to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19 with an increased use of remote hearings, medical assessments, and rehabilitation. Whilst this has benefits in terms of time and travel savings, various practical issues need further improvement, such as ensuring that all parties having access to the right documents and sufficient access to digital communications for all. Whilst remote hearings may work well when both sides are professionally represented, self-representing litigants may be at a distinct disadvantage. We also have lingering concerns that online/digital assessments and hearings may not meet the same standards as those conducted physically.
If a major move towards digital transformation is to continue across the court estate, we urge that sufficient time and resources are provided to thoroughly research its impact, gather evidence and engage with stakeholders to determine where and how digitilisation is appropriate within PI. Ultimately the accident victims must not be disadvantaged in anyway by moving online, regardless of where they live, their financial circumstances or physical or mental capacity.
The Government’s whiplash reforms may have been pushed down the road to at least April 2021, but there are still substantial and fundamental aspects of the process about which little is known, or decisions have yet to be made. The new online process will actively encourage self-litigation and dramatically reduce professional representation. In these uncertain and difficult times, motor accident victims acting as self-litigants must be protected, with every effort taken to ensure that everyone is treated equally and have access to the new, increasingly digital, civil justice system.
Paul Nicholls, author of “Further research needed in light of increasingly digital civil justice system” is Chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) and Senior Partner at Nicholls Brimble Bhol
This article first appeared in Modern Insurance Magazine, Issue 44