The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation on whiplash reforms which closed last Friday unsurprisingly prompted many responses from interested parties within the personal injury sector. The Law Society warned that if the changes, which include raising the small claims limit to £5,000, are introduced; the reforms will not only have a major impact on the personal injury sector, but honest claimants will also therefore be forced to go into battle against well-resourced insurers without legal representation.
Prior to the publication of its full response to the MoJ proposals, the Law Society said the reform – which could be implemented as soon as April – will create a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario, where ordinary claimants suffer from inequality of arms. Law Society President, Robert Bourns, said:
‘The government’s belief that raising the small claims limit for personal injury claims to £5,000 and abandoning general damages for “minor” whiplash injuries will help stop fraudulent claims is wholly misguided.’
‘There is a real danger to justice if government stops those who have legitimate claims from obtaining the compensation they are entitled to and which helps them get back on their feet.’
The Society also added that it opposed plans to limit or scrap general damages for soft tissue injuries, saying these would remove a ‘fundamental legal right’. Mr Bourns said that all the reforms will do is stop honest people making legitimate claims. He added that if an insurer truly believes any claim lacks merit, it should fight it.
Further representations on the proposed changes were made by many other legal firms in the sector, and reported in the Law Society Gazette. Cheshire firm Aegis Legal said in its response that the proposals give the impression that insurers’ profits are more important than injured people’s rights. Aegis Legal added the impact of other civil justice reforms, including the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, have yet to be fully assessed or reviewed, and therefore called for these to be given time to bed in.
Yorkshire firm True Solicitors said that whilst it supported industry efforts to tackle fraud, it believed the MoJ proposals would not solve whatever problems exist. Partner Paul Drabble told the Law Society Gazette:
‘We strongly object to these proposals because not only do they remove access to justice for genuine accident victims, but they do so, based on anecdotal evidence and information that is demonstrably incorrect.’
In its representation, London firm Hodge Jones & Allen described the reform proposals as ‘scandalous’ and warned they would disproportionately affect the young, elderly, mentally incapacitated, those with special needs and those for whom English is not their first language:
‘They will be the people least able to bring their own claims without legal assistance, which will be the result of the MoJ plans.’
‘These proposals will place individuals in an even more vulnerable position as they face up to organised legal teams alone.’
Consultant solicitor John Holtom, of Luton-based Legal Solutions Partnership, told the MoJ that whilst there was no doubting that the personal injury business had become ‘disreputable, intrusive, and a matter of embarrassment to practitioners and non-practitioners alike: the solution proposed – to tear up social justice and reward the insurance industry which has partaken of, and profited from, the mess – is misdirected.’