Prison and Courts Bill announcement –
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Yesterday’s announcement from the Ministry of Justice about provisions included in the Prisons and Courts Bill in relation to the reform of whiplash claims will affect people hurt in road traffic accidents, and especially those with personal injuries valued at under £5,000. Provisions in the Bill are stated to include an increase in the Small Claims Track limit to £5000 for road traffic injury claims arising from accidents in England/Wales, and a general increase to £2000 for all other personal injury claims, the introduction of a new fixed tariff capping whiplash compensation payments and a ban on pre-medical offers.
I do not welcome this Bill and there is real concern from lawyers about this development. Why is this Bill of such concern? Well… This Bill, if passed, would force a substantial amount of injured people into the small claims courts where they would be forced to represent themselves against well-funded and experienced insurance companies. This is not an easy option for anyone. The Small Claims Track is designed for small-scale consumer disputes and excludes anything other than nominal costs for solicitors - so solicitors do not generally deal with Small Claims Track cases. Don't forget an injured person still has to prove they were injured and what the value of their claim is. Insurers are not charities and will do their best to minimise their payouts, which is of course their right – but the people lost in the middle of this will be the genuinely hurt accident victims.
Due to the Government's policy to make a profit out of court fees, which means that court fees have rocketed, the courts have already experienced an increase in what is called Litigants in Person (which means people unrepresented by lawyers). And, of course, this government has practically abolished legal aid. In combination with the recent cuts to the court services, my view is that the average consumer's access to justice will be affected further by the Bill. Don't forget that a claim for £5,000 can include injuries such as fractures, as well as scarring on the face. Is it really fair and equitable for people to be unable to bring claims without expert legal advice? My view is that it is not.
The Law Society states it "hotly disputes the government narrative underpinning the proposals that reform is all about curbing fraudulent claims. Fraudulent claims are repellent but they should be dealt with by targeting the fraudsters - not the vast majority of honest claimants who have been injured and bring genuine claims". The Law Society also pointed out that "the Association of British Insurers conceded to the Commons Justice Select Committee during a session on personal injury reform that the insurance industry saved ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’ from reforms to personal injury in 2013 and that the number of whiplash claims has come down in the last year". Further comments state that "The Law Society has, however, campaigned for some of the changes proposed in the bill" and it therefore "welcomed a proposal to ditch the practice of insurers offering compensation for whiplash ahead of any medical assessment".
Neil Sugarman, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) a national not-for-profit group which represents injured people, states that "people injured in traffic accidents are to be robbed of fair compensation in the deluded belief that insurance premiums will fall as a result […] Data from the insurance industry shows that since 2013, the annual cost of motor-related personal injury claims has fallen by £536million yet insurance premiums have continued to rise”.
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