Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Blog: Whiplash bill may miss the mark

The government’s whiplash bill is going through parliament, but it could end up missing the mark, says Donna Scully, director of law firm Carpenters

The parliamentary process can be just a little baffling sometimes. A case in point was the recent evidence session on the whiplash reforms element of the Prisons and Courts Bill.

A more enlightening use of the committee’s time might have been to question Ministry of Justice ministers and senior officials directly on their reforms. After all, the committee members’ views are generally well established. The most vocal MPs have been active participants in the debate for months now and have been chosen, I suspect, to sit on the committee precisely because they hold the views that they do. The position of insurers and claimant solicitors will have been familiar to the committee before a word was spoken. Our collective understanding of the Government’s plans was not advanced by the event.

Of course, ministers may be asked to defend the relevant clauses later in the committee process, but this scrutiny will be narrowly confined to the measures in the bill, not the wider context and more fundamental questions about goals and consequences. It’s not clear whether the MPs registered it, or indeed were that interested, but Brett Dixon of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) came closest when he said that “the Bill is a missed opportunity to deal with the real drivers of these types of claims, and that is claims management companies”.

Everyone agreed that CMCs are a major part of the problem, but there was little about how the proposed legislation will reduce their impact on the number of claims, build on the Brady Review, or indeed how fraudulent behaviour is tackled by the bill. The reality is that this legislation focuses on a single area only, “taking money out of the system” as the mantra now goes. It contains nothing about new CMC regulation to reduce cold calling, or how to tackle abuses in medical reporting, rehab and credit hire.

Ministers should be challenged on their rationale and evidence, because regret in hindsight will be too late. Perhaps the Justice Select Committee will pick up the gauntlet with ministers in the next few weeks when they revisit the issue. Otherwise, it will be down to the unelected house.

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