Law Society Gazette, 21st April 2020
The implementation of reforms to the whiplash claims process was today set back until April next year – the second postponement in two months.
Lord chancellor Robert Buckland QC said the government remains fully committed to the wide-ranging measures but that the coronavirus crisis has made it impossible to meet the 1 August deadline.
The current timetable was set in February when the government said it could no longer meet its initial plan to implement changes on 6 April.
Buckland said: ‘It is apparent that the current Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the medical, legal and insurance sectors. While the whiplash reform measures remain important, the government is committed to acting to ease the disruption and pressures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak where it can.
‘As a result, the government has considered representations from key stakeholder groups and agrees that now is not the time to press ahead with significant transformational change to the personal injury sector.’
Buckland said the further delay will enable affected sectors to focus their energies on delivering their response to the virus and subsequent lockdown, as well as allow the government to concentrate on maintaining key services in the justice area.
The MoJ intends to increase the small claims limit to £5,000 for RTA claims, meaning costs can no longer be recovered for cases worth less than that amount.
To offset claimants’ potential lack of representation, the government tasked the Motor Insurers Bureau to create a portal which would be easy to use for those handling their own claims. Much of the preparatory work for this portal has been done, but issues likes tariff levels and necessary changes to the civil procedure rules are yet to be resolved.
The claimant sector will no doubt be pleased that the government has opted to delay once again the implementation.
Paul Nicholls, chair of Motor Accident Solicitors Society, said: ‘This sensible decision will be very welcome news for claimants and the sector. With everyone struggling with bigger issues right now, this delay will hopefully provide time, when it is appropriate, for a proper debate on the many outstanding issues yet to be resolved.’
Association of Personal Injury Lawyers president Gordon Dalyell said delay was welcome, but another arbitrary date for the reforms to be implemented was meaningless unless critical issues are addressed. ‘The new claims portal lacks vital safeguards to ensure injured people are able to gain access to justice,’ he said.
‘Without alternative dispute resolution the portal will leave unrepresented injured people in a very vulnerable position if liability or the value of the claim is disputed.’
Law Society president Simon Davis said the decision ‘provides welcome pause for thought and much-needed clarity for the personal injury sector’.
Davis noted that important policy decisions remain to be made about how the portal will work in practice, and solicitors – for both claimants and defendants – as well as the general public will need time to adapt. ‘The Law Society will continue to challenge the government to ensure the portal is fit for purpose and those with low-value road traffic injuries have access to justice.’
James Dalton, director of general insurance for the Association of British Insurers, said: ‘Given this unprecedented situation, we understand that a delay to implementing these much-needed reforms is necessary. However, any delay beyond what is absolutely needed will impact on the benefits to claimants and consumers.’