MoJ “set to repeat mistakes of LASPO”, warns MASS Chairman

This article first appeared in Litigation Futures

By Neil Rose, 12 October 2017

MoJ “set to repeat mistakes of LASPO”, warns MASS chairmanLASPO has not brought down insurance premiums, stopped referral fees or seen accident victims benefit from the promised 10% uplift in damages, and the Ministry of Justice is set to repeat its mistakes in the Civil Liability Bill, the chairman of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) claimed yesterday.

Speaking at its annual conference in Sheffield, Simon Stanfield said that “driven by one side in the debate,
part 2 of LASPO was misguided in its objectives, flawed in its rationale and poorly executed”.

Though motor insurance premiums did fall for a short period, he said they have since increased “dramatically”, hitting pre-LASPO levels again.

Mr Stanfield continued: “Accident victims rarely benefit from a 10% uplift in damages. QOCS has undoubtedly been used by some legal practitioners, but it is often disallowed and there are a number of QOCS cases proceeding through the courts in an attempt to clarify their uncertainty.

“Third-party capture remains unregulated and is still a significant problem.

“The related ‘fundamental dishonesty’ change has led to many genuine claimants coming under unfair pressure to cease a legitimate claim ahead of going to court.”

He argued that personal injury cases involving children have been “particularly hard hit” due to the Jackson reforms, while the referral fee ban “has made little or no difference to those that wish to retain such relationships”.

The delays in the latest round of reforms has led to a “great deal of uncertainty”, Mr Stanfield said, adding: “The original October 2018 deadline will certainly be missed and we may still be some way off from full implementation of the final package.”

He noted that the MoJ has yet to issue its response to part 2 of the consultation behind the Civil Liability Bill, dealing with issues such as medical reporting, rehabilitation costs and credit hire.

“The government continues to struggle with getting a grip on the issue of credit hire and with the technology in cars getting ever more sophisticated, issues around credit repair and total loss claims are only likely to increase.”

At the same time, the landscape was changing, Mr Stanfield said, with the numbers of whiplash claims and claims management companies falling, and the reformed MedCo rules kicking in.

“We are approaching near-record high levels of motor premiums, fueled by successive increases in the IPT, higher repair costs, the recent changes in the discount rate and probably a host of other factors. One thing is clear though, it cannot be blamed on increased legal costs.

“Fraudulent behaviour – which never was at a level suggested by the newspaper headlines – appears to be on the wane, with many cash-for-crash gangs busted by the combined efforts of the various intelligence and investigative bodies.

“All of this begs the question, what are the current proposed changes to the claims environment really for?”

Mr Stanfield acknowledged that raising the small claims limit and introducing a “ridiculously low fixed tariff system” may indeed dissuade some, “but it will come at the expense of legitimate claims for justice and a likely increase in fraudulent claims…

“We have a number of concerns about how the new claims process will deliver the best possible service to litigants in person without restricting the right to independent legal advice and access to justice.”

Mr Stanfield revealed that in the summer MASS, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, the Law Society and others were asked to join a Ministry of Justice whiplash reform steering group, looking at various practical aspects of the government’s programme.

While stressing MASS’s continued opposition to the reforms, he said: “We recognise that there is a value in having our views heard at the heart of the official process.”

Simon Stanfield’s full Conference speech can be read here

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