Has the Government Lost the Plot When It Comes to Civil Justice?

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With all the latest changes to compensation and claim limits in the UK, Lawyer Monthly here benefits from an analysis by Amanda Cunliffe, Founder and Chief Officer for Legal Practice at Amanda Cunliffe Solicitors, on the Government’s far-reaching reform to personal injury law.

It’s been a bruising few weeks for the world of personal injury law.

Following their consultation into wide-ranging personal injury reforms, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has opted to surge ahead with a raft of changes to legislation over the next 18 months. The witch-hunt against a perceived ‘compensation culture’ looks to have won out and, as ever, it is the honest majority which loses.

While most lawyers would admit that they could get on board with a balanced, understanding and evidence-based approach to reforms, it is the government’s aggressive targeting of whiplash claimants which has lost all sense of comparison or reality.

Westminster’s ire towards those involved in road traffic accidents (RTAs) – the vast majority of which are honest claimants – has fuelled the production of a series of reforms which, if implemented, will put the sector well at odds with many other areas of civil law.

In just over 18 months from now, those claiming compensation for a 4-6 month injury sustained from an RTA will be entitled to a maximum payment of just £450, down from £2,150. That’s barely more than the insurance awards for a three hour flight delay (£330), and less than a quarter of the £2,000 a victim of food poisoning on holiday could be entitled to.

And what next? The chancers among the crowds will simply turn to dropping undercooked chicken into their beachside paella. The reforms should focus on the due process – ensuring that dishonest claims are exposed and thrown out. This outcome is something that both insurers and lawyers should be able to agree on.

The government’s position has been taken entirely on the presumption that whiplash claimants are lying. It’s an astounding assumption to make, undermining due process of our justice system, the effectiveness of our civil courts and, most importantly, rejecting the notion of honesty among the Great British Public.

So much for ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

In addition, Justice Secretary Liz Truss and her colleagues have neglected to consider a series of important facts. Firstly, the MoJ rubbished evidence that the number of whiplash claims is reducing, when proof of as much can be found in their own Compensation Recovery Unit figures – a decrease of 22% since 2008.

Next, the MoJ has stated that one key benefit for the consumer will be that insurance premiums will be reduced as a consequence. Meanwhile, motor insurance premiums rose by £100 in 2016, and look set to go up by another £75 following the recent reduction of the insurers’ ‘discount rate’. Whatever the outcome of any reforms, it won’t be the insurers counting the cost. The disconnect between the MoJ’s assertions and the evidence-based reality is a cause for concern for the consumer.

In addition, a victim of an RTA will need to have a claim worth in excess of £5,000 before they will be able to benefit from traditional legal representation; with the small claims limit being raised from £1,000 to £5,000. It isn’t just motorists that will feel the pinch, either. Anybody making a claim for any personal injury, however suffered, will see a rise in the small claims limit from £1,000 to £2,000, preventing a huge portion of lower-earners from having the means to claim a lifeline in compensation following an accident. It is, therefore, evident that tough times lie ahead for personal injury sufferers.

It’s crucial that the honest victims remain the focus for the government in the personal injury argument.

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1 Comment

  1. Matthew Mayhew says

    Great article.

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