' The shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve MP told delegates that the government had given a conflicting message on the compensation culture.

While the Better Regulation Task Force (BRTF) reported the culture was an urban myth, the Prime Minister made it a top political priority, appointing a compensation minister to create a Compensation Bill.

"I do find it difficult to reconcile what [BRTF chairman] David Arculus said, what the government chose to accept then and what the government says now," he said.

"Doubtless, the government has sent its opinion pollsters out onto the street and has come back with answers which don't necessarily accord with David Arculus's view," Grieve added.

The Woolf reforms, he said, were "intimately linked" to public disquiet on the matter. Woolf's attempts to expedite the claims systems had created an "inevitable tension between being fair to claimants and being fair to insurers," he said.

Speeding up the system had created a series of problems. Most poignantly insurers are willing to pay out on low-cost claims, but on doubtful claims the industry preferred to delay pay-outs.

"Paying out a small sum of money to an undeserving claim resolves that claim, but is that in fact one of the principal fuels which is leading to more and more people believing that they can make claims because they will get something out of it?" asked Grieve.

Delegates were also told that the 'no-win, no-fee' market would return to the political arena within the next decade, "not because the system isn't working, lawyers love it, solicitors love it, but... it's going to come back into the arena over the discussions on legal aid".

He said: "The fact that it introduced and removed so much work from the legal aid orbit has resulted in precipitating most of the legal aid crisis we are suffering from. Alternative methods of funding litigation have been ignored."

Grieve concluded that the industry should be looking for the government to introduce a "fair system" which is "well structured" and will reward those who complete early settlements and resolve disputes quickly.

Dominic Grieve

Key point

  • Government is sending out mixed messages on the compensation culture
  • The compensation culture has become a political priority
  • Early resolution of disputes and early settlements
  • Topics