Although the Litigants in Person portal is pencilled in for an April 2021 launch date, Shirley Woolham warns that unless it is ‘absolutely workable’, then further delays should be recommended

Despite having its launch date pushed back twice – so far – Minster Law chief executive Shirley Woolham warns that the upcoming Litigants in Person (LiP) portal may have to be further delayed from its revised April 2021 launch date as “mediocrity cannot be tolerated”.

Forming part of the Civil Liability Act, which gained Royal Assent in December 2018, the LiP portal plans to enable claimants to process their own personal injury claims online, up to a revised £5,000 limit, without the aid of a solicitor; this is an increase on the previous £1,000 small claim limit.

The act also allows a new tariff table, listing set damages for whiplash injuries that impact claimants for between three months and two years; this strives to clarify compensation levels.

Originally, this work – described as part one of the reforms – was due to be launched in April 2020. The implementation date has, however, since been pushed back to August 2020 and then April 2021, due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although Woolham says she “just wants the job done”, she also emphasises that unless the portal is “absolutely workable”, it would be better to have another delay.

She explains: “Do I think that they’ll be ready in April? My answer to that question would be if the [Motor Insurers’ Bureau] and [Ministry of Justice] aren’t certain they can deliver an absolutely workable process that meets all of the requirements of customers, I’d urge them to delay.

“But, if there’s a chance to get the job done, I’d want that too. Mediocrity cannot be tolerated. As the industry, we need to hold the MoJ and MIB to account. It’s the customer who’s the most important person in all of this, the claimant.”

Despite this warning, Woolham adds that consistent delays are also “not helpful”. 

Shirley Woolham_Minster Law

Shirley Woolham

She continues: “I just want the job done. Constant to-ing and fro-ing and the inertia that it’s created in the market, for all parties – not least the customer – it’s just not helpful at all.”

Market consolidation

For Woolham, a prominent fallout following the implementation of the whiplash reform could be “increased consolidation in the PI sector, which is certainly something to monitor and keep a watch on”.

She says: “It’s certainly true to say that in a post-reforms world, scale and volume will be key, so I think it will be inevitable that we’ll see some market moves over the coming month and year.

”There’s just been an increased polarisation because of that, between law firms who are able to invest and who have the inclination and ability to invest in the changes that are needed to respond to a post-reforms market, versus those that can’t and who have no inclination.

“It is really starting to polarise the PI market and as a result, many mid-tier PI providers, I think, are diversifying into other types of PI away from RTA and indeed other legal disciplines. In fact, some are even considering exiting the market.”

Collaboration improvements

Despite the fluctuations in thinking around the LiP portal and the potential post-reform ramifications, one recent positive trend that has glued the personal injury industry together has been its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For example, medical examination bodies such as MedCo agreed to remote medical consultations thanks to a Statement of Intent compiled by the ABI and the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO), published in April.

There’s also the ‘Coronavirus (Covid-19) Personal Injury Protocol’, spearheaded by law firm Thompsons Solicitors and the ABI – in April, this protocol had been adopted by 141 law firms and 17 insurance companies so that personal injury solicitors, both defendant and claimant, as well as insurers could work together to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on claims progression.

“Covid created the necessary burning platform to cut through the unhelpful adversarial nature of the insurance claims world and the collaboration that was created by all parties was really refreshing,” Woolham says.

“It was really refreshing because the people who benefitted were the claimants. I think any roll back from the collaboration now would be an absolute travesty.

“What we need to do as an industry is come together and hold our position and understand how we can learn from this spirit of collaboration to make sure we move forward together, where genuine claimants get the help that they need.”