Donna Scully (pictured), director at law firm Carpenters, looks ahead to the next phase of the government’s crackdown on whiplash claims, seeking justice for genuine claimants
The opening scene in the debate on the future of motor accident claims started not with a bang but a whimper. Although debated extensively for months, if not years, it is what happens in Parliament with the Prisons and Courts Bill that will determine the outcome of the chosen path, directed by the insurance sector and seemingly effortlessly adopted by the Government.
History appears to have already judged that we were collectively led to this point by the Access to Justice Act 1999, blamed for giving the claims market some of its uglier characteristics. The LASPO Act 2012, hotly debated for 10 months, is a more recent comparative study in legislation. Opposed by the Opposition at every parliamentary stage for its front assault on legal aid, the reform of litigation funding and costs was always a sideshow.
Spanning a range of important measures on prison reform and court procedures, but at less than half the size in length of LASPO, the Prisons and Courts Bill is a very different beast. It is broadly supported by all political parties, but the most contentious section appears to be Part 5 related to the whiplash reforms. Labour, and perhaps some Conservatives, would like to “improve” the proposals with amendments. This week a Committee of seventeen MPs will begin the process of scrutinising the Bill clause-by-clause, having first taken oral evidence from a range of stakeholders.
The Parliamentary discourse needs to look beyond the contents of the Bill, but the wider reform programme. The raising of the small claims limit for RTA claims to £5,000 is likely to only receive the lightest of scrutiny in a few months’ time when it is introduced as a statutory instrument, so the consequences of this move need to be assessed and challenged alongside the Bill. The impact of these reforms is likely to go far beyond what happened in 1999, having long-lasting impacts on the sector. Many will welcome that, whilst others see only the potential folly of opening the door to CMCs. We may not see fireworks, but the future of justice for genuine insurance customers deserves careful scrutiny.