Lord Chancellor says the delay is ‘a sensible and pragmatic approach’ considering the continued challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic

A written statement published today by Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon, announced that the implementation of the Litigants in Person (LiP) portal has once again been pushed back – the online service is now expected to be launched in May 2021.

This is now the fourth time that the LiP portal has been delayed – the service was originally due to be launched in April 2020, however the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic saw the portal’s implementation date move instead to August.

As the pandemic continued last year, the portal’s launch was further pushed back to April 2021 – today, however, the government confirmed a revised May 2021 deadline, awarding the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) an extra month to complete any outstanding work.

In his address, Buckland described the delay as “a sensible and pragmatic approach”.

He said: “This is a sensible and pragmatic approach to take in order to achieve successful and effective implementation of the whiplash reform programme.

“Delivering these reforms remains a key government priority and we will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that all are sufficiently prepared for the new measures upon implementation.”

The LiP portal forms part of the Civil Liability Act, which gained Royal Assent in December 2018. It 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.

Covid culprit

The main culprit for the continued delays, according to Buckland, is the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Initially, pushing back the portal launch was designed to help “key sectors of this country’s business to focus on delivering their response to Covid-19. This pause also allowed the government to focus resource on the priority delivery of key justice services during the pandemic”.

Despite the government remaining “firmly committed” to delivering the LiP portal, Buckland did “acknowledge the challenges experienced by all in the face of the pandemic”, which is why further delays were deemed necessary.

“We understand the importance of industry preparedness and, after consideration, it is for that reason we have decided to allow an additional short period of time to further accommodate this,” he wrote.

These challenges aside, Buckland added that the “MoJ continues to work with the Civil Procedure Rules Committee to finalise the supporting rules and pre-action protocol” and that “the Motor Insurers’ Bureau continues to make excellent progress on the build of the Official Injury Claim Service”.

Frustrating, but inevitable

Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) president Sam Elsby welcomes the delayed timetable.

“Work on the new system has been dangerously compressed to meet this artificial deadline, so we welcome any delay which is used to address our concerns about outstanding issues of critical importance to injured people,” he explained.

“We need to know exactly how the proposed new ‘bespoke’ court process will replace [alternative dispute resolution], we need to know the outcome of consultation with the Lord Chief Justice about the new whiplash tariffs, and there needs to be clarification about how mixed claims will be handled in the new system.

“Furthermore, the public must be properly informed well in advance about the new system that claimants will have to use when they are injured.”

Donna Scully, director at Carpenters Group, added that the delay was “inevitable”, however she believes that a one-month push-back does not provide enough time to remedy the outstanding issues with the portal.

She said: “Although frustrating, given the outstanding issues to be resolved and the backdrop of the worsening pandemic, a further delay was inevitable, but only allowing an extra month when we have yet to see the new rules is unreasonable both for those trying to develop a workable process once we have the rules and for customers who need the system to work from the start. Amending a process already up and running is much harder as we learnt with the Medco system.

“The new claims process must be fully fit-for-purpose when launched to smooth the transition and to minimise the increased risks of fraudulent behaviour. There are significant dangers if there is a rush to implement too early.”

Urgent clarification

For Shirley Woolham, chief executive of Minster Law, “the industry urgently needs clarification”.

She continued: “We are not surprised that ministers have chosen to further delay the LiP portal given the breadth and depth of implementation challenges that still remain.

“It is important that the portal improves on the current system for settling with minor injury claims, so it is welcome that there will be more time to create a good customer experience.

“The industry urgently needs clarification of the rules that will govern the portal and clear guidance from the MIB that will allow firms such as Minster to advance and complete integration.”

Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO), however, thinks “ministers must rethink the route to market” and that work with the industry so far has been disjointed.

“It is abundantly clear that trying to deliver this project in relative isolation from experienced industry practitioners is not working. Now that we face more delay, ministers must rethink the route to market for the whiplash reform programme and get the claims sector much more involved,” he said.

“The Covid crisis has shown the capacity of our sector to come together to keep the wheels of justice turning. It’s time for us to step up to the plate again and work with the MoJ and MIB to bring these reforms to fruition.”

Maxwell Scott further believes that the government needs to “restore alternative dispute resolution to the plans” and ensure “rehabilitation is a central part of the process”, with “credit hire and repair properly accounted for”.

Graham Pulford, chief executive of handl Group, labelled the delay as “sensible” and believes this will give the industry more time to raise consumer awareness of products such as legal expenses insurance (LEI), which he thinks will play a more important part in injury claims moving forward.