A report by the LSB suggesting that reforms within the personal injury profession from 1999 to 2013 have had ‘little impact’ on access to justice, has been labelled insufficient and misleading by Scott Rees & Co Partner, David Byrne.
He claims that it is crucial for the last 12 months to be taken into account if the report is to give a clearer definition over how access to justice has truly been affected,
The report shows how the industry has been affected by such changes over the years. It includes the presence and removal of the referral fee ban, the introduction of the Conditional Fee agreement and the permission of Alternative Business Structures to operate within the industry. All of these would seem to have had little impact into how people can claim access to justice through personal injury compensation.
Within the findings, it was also revealed that increased advertising costs from personal injury solicitors has had little effect. This contradicts the insurers views that PI firms have been encouraging claims.
Information missing would make for clearer and fairer report
However, all is not right with the report in terms of accuracy. David Byrne believes that the information that is missing would make for a clearer and fairer report.
He said: “Obviously the fact that the number of reforms has had limited impact on how people gain access to justice is great news, as it means genuine victims have still been able to find a way to get compensation for their injuries and I think in the scheme of things, the personal injury industry deserves credit for finding ways to adapt to the many government changes which, at times, has made it difficult to continue to operate as a profitable business, in particular in the last four years.”
“But what the research does not address is the impact of LASPO, which have been by far and away the toughest pieces of legislation to deal with, especially when you take into account the harsh cuts in terms of solicitor’s fees, that has forced so many legal firms to go out of business, so without taking that into account and updating the research, this report is pointless.”
“I am almost certain that if this research is carried out to take into account the period of the last 12 months, then the findings would indeed be different and if the insurance industry get their way, the future in regards to access justice, particularly for the small claims court, can only be described as bleak, at best.”
“What must not happen from the release of these figures, is a knee jerk reaction from the government and the introduction of further reforms along the same vein as the once introduced as LASPO. This would cripple the industry and would almost certainly bring an end to justice for those who have suffered from smaller scale injuries.”
The Chief Executive of the Law Society, Desmond Hudson, also had his say about the findings. He said: “More research now needs to be undertaken to assess recent reforms to civil litigation have had on access to justice. The government’s reduction of public funding, contrary to Lord Justice Jackson’s advice, needs to be scrutinised.”
Alternative Business Structures certainly came out favourably from the report. It was revealed that since they were approved to operate as part of the Legal Services Act 2007, they may have had a positive effect on access to justice by increasing the numbers and types of legal providers and reducing costs.
There was, however, some concern that ABSs could encourage issues of a lack of transparency when it came to the issue of referral fees.
The report stated: “The risk remains in ABS organisations where they shift pre-litigation work from solicitors to other individuals without a clear contracting method – with this work potentially taking place within the same organisation.”
“This form of vertical integration has the potential to reduce overall costs. The lesson with regard to regulation is the need to consider how larger, more complex firms could be regulated in a proportionate way.”
The LSB, themselves, admitted that the findings of their report weren’t highly conclusive and that they wouldn’t settle differences of opinion on the true impact of the reforms.
Strategy director for the LSB, Caroline Wallace said: “The development of the personal injury market undoubtedly polarises opinion. The research we have published today is unlikely to settle that debate.”
“But what it does do is confirm one important fact that is too important to be overlooked – that there is a continued lack of understanding of the needs of consumers in debates around legal services generally – not just in relation to personal injury.”