Wishful Thinking

This article first appeared in Modern Claims Magazine, Issue 13, May 2015

A general election is often a good point to take stock, to look back at the policies introduced by government, in this case, over the last five years and to look ahead to the future. Strictly speaking, Lord Chief Justice Jackson’s final report was published in January 2010, several months before the election of that year, but that is a good place to start.

Wishful Thinking

As we approach the second anniversary of the introduction of the Jackson reforms, the sector is still trying to come to terms with the scale of the changes over the last five years – Jackson, ABSs, LASPO, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, the Mitchell ruling, new Civil Procedure Rules on soft tissue injuries, the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, the Medical Innovation Bill and reforms in medical reporting (MedCo).

Many people lost their jobs, many firms have closed down as a direct result of the reforms and those remaining have been forced to fundamentally recalibrate their business models. Some have argued that those surviving firms are stronger as a result, but there has been a high price to pay and few solicitors will look back on this period with any fondness. Although it is sometimes hard to admit, there have been some positives, particularly around greater fraud prevention, which has blighted the sector for too long.

The sector then has survived and will continue to adapt and change. But it has not just been the sector itself that has been hurt. Already coping with their injuries, the genuine accident victim has been further deeply wounded by these reforms. Taken as a whole, the accident victim is now less likely to have legal representation against insurers and will receive less compensation for their injuries. We must return to a fairer system where injured claimants receive full compensation commensurate to their injuries.

This is why MASS will press the new government, whatever its political composition, for a better and fairer balance between claimants and defendants. We must ensure that those with claims of lower value can still access professional legal advice. Insurers must honour their commitment to cease making pre-medical offers and end the practice of third party capture. We need better enforcement of data protection legislation and a review of the fixed costs regime to ensure claimants whose claims fall within the fast track are receiving full access to justice. The new court fees that unfairly discriminate against poorer claimants should be abandoned.

And at the appropriate juncture, MASS would like to see a review of LASPO, MedCo and the concept of fundamental dishonesty to ensure that they are working effectively in the interests of claimants. It is probably wishful thinking that all of this can be achieved, but that should not stop the claimant community from trying. The accident victims we represent deserve nothing less.

Susan Brown is Chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) and a Director of Prolegal

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MASS promotes the highest standards of legal services through education and representation in the pursuit of justice for victims of road traffic accidents.