Justice Minister, Helen Grant has announced that the decision regarding whether or not the government will increase the small claims limit will be held off until the autumn.
Speaking at the Modern Law Conference in London, Ms Grant breathed new hope into the campaign led by the personal injury sector to stop the increase happening but did not give the reasons why the government have opted to delay.
One of the representative bodies for the personal injury sector, the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS), welcomed the news. Responding to the speech, MASS Chair Craig Budsworth said: “We welcome today’s announcement that the government will be taking stock of proposals for further reform to the whiplash claims process and not make any decisions until the autumn. This will give parliament the opportunity to give the proposal to raise the small claims limit to £5,000 the detailed scrutiny it deserves.”
Earlier Ms Grant addressed the conference and the concerns over the civil justice reforms and talked about a future of ‘tremendous opportunity’ for those who continue to work through them, complimenting those who had explored the option of Alternative Business Structures (ABS). She also reflected on her 23 years as a solicitor within the family and civil litigation field and its role in her wanting to make changes.
Talking about her time as a solicitor she said: “Though I enjoyed the work immensely during that time I also saw a huge increase in the number of claims. I saw a huge increase in the cost of dealing with those claims. I saw the growth of risk-free litigation and I also saw the worrying growth of the compensation culture.
“Meritorious claims will always be allowed but balance needs to be restored. We need to make sure we do everything we possibly can to protect claimant’s damages and we need to tackle the compensation culture. Ultimately we also want to see the insurance industry pass on the savings to consumers through much lower insurance premiums.”
This will cause further distress to the personal injury sector as leading figures from the insurance industry have already conceded that despite the wholesale changes made by Ms Grant and her government there is unlikely to be a substantial drop in the price of insurance premiums.
One figure quoted from the managing director of Liverpool Victoria, John O’Roarke, who stated that consumers can expect a decrease of around just 3%, which is surely not worth the loss in tax revenue the destruction of an entire sector will cause?
She went to sympathise with personal injury firms, even stating that she ‘felt their pain’ before offering the insight that the changes created tremendous opportunity. Perhaps she should try explaining what ‘tremendous opportunities’ there are for those personal injury firms who have been forced to close their doors or to those working within the industry who have found themselves being made redundant.
She concluded her speech at the conference by saying: “Ultimately it will be the consumer who wins, with greater competition in the sector, transparent customer-orientated services and, very importantly, better value for money. Putting the consumer first is a worthy principle, but the legal sector is a very, very worthy profession and it too needs our support. I can tell you that I will never forget that.”
Perhaps Ms Grant can forgive us if people believe that she has already forgotten that. Yes the consumer winning is something that the personal injury sector would love to see, but with the revelations that the insurance industry won’t cut insurance premiums by as much as the government are perhaps broadcasting, this is unlikely to be the case.
This is compiled by the fact that the ‘evidence’ the insurance industry submitted to the government in order to enforce the reforms were based on dated, and therefore frivolous, information, in order for them to get their own way, making it perfectly understandable why anyone, let alone a personal injury lawyer, wouldn’t believe that the consumer will in fact end up winning.
Which begs the question, what about the genuine accident victim? Don’t they deserve to win too? This is something that so far has clearly been lost on the government as they continue to support the insurers and make changes that will make gaining access to justice close to impossible and leave thousands of victims, injured because of the fault of another, being left out of pocket.
All eyes will now turn towards the Transport Committees inquiry into whiplash. The delay on the decision for the small claims limit has revived hope for the personal injury sector, as it will allow the Committee to influence what happens moving forward.
For a vast majority within the industry, the findings from the Committee’s inquiry could literally be the last chance saloon for the future of the personal injury lawyer and more importantly, the genuine accident victim’s access to justice.