Solicitor body claim Lords committee endorsed its concerns about the Civil Liability Bill 

The Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) is celebrating a small victory after the House of Lords committee supported its recommendations for amendments to the Civil Liability Bill.

The controversial bill is set for its first reading in the House of Lords tomorrow. But it has had the insurance industry and legal professionals at loggerheads regarding the small claims limit and the proposed tariff on injuries resulted from road traffic accidents.

MASS sent the committee a letter on 16 April expressing its concern at the current state of the bill, while making a number of recommendations for changes.

And on Thursday, the House of Lords committee published its recommendations, appearing to agree with MASS on two changes in particular.

Definition of whiplash

In its letter, MASS says that it doesn’t believe the Lord Chancellor, or many people in the Ministry of Justice, is qualified to make a decision on what the definition of whiplash is.

It says: “We believe this task is misplaced and should more appropriately reside with the government’s chief medical officer and a panel of independent medical experts.”

MASS has also said it would like the definition to be included in the bill, which it is not currently.

Both of these recommendations have been backed by the House of Lords committee in its publication, particularly that the definition of whiplash should be included. The notion that medical experts and the chief medical officer should determine the definition was left as a sub-point.

It read: “We agree with these propositions. But it does not follow from them that the definition of ‘whiplash injury’ should be contained in regulations rather than the bill.”

Damages from whiplash

MASS also suggested that details of the proposed tariffs should also be included in the bill, to avoid it being changed later.

The House of Lords committee agreed. It said in its publication that “merely because a figure or a mechanism needs updating from time to time does not mean that it should not initially appear in primary legislation”.

Donna Scully, a partner at law firm Carpenters, has described the bill as “light” and its lightness means the bill “doesn’t have much to deliberate”.

“If the definition and damages for whiplash were to be in the bill, it would be more for the government to debate upon, and even if it doesn’t go the way solicitors want it to, it’s still good for democracy,” she said.

Simon Stanfield, chair of MASS said: “We have long held serious concerns that so many elements of the Government’s proposed changes to whiplash claims were being delegated to Ministers and officials, rather than the judiciary or independent medical experts. We are of course pleased that this House of Lords Committee has agreed.

“Looking beyond the Civil Liability Bill, our concerns obviously extend to the fact that the grossly unfair proposed increase in the Small Claims Track limit may receive minimal parliamentary scrutiny and debate.

”Such major and detrimental changes to the way in which accident victims seek the justice which they deserve must be fully transparent and the detail debated openly. We must now see how the government responds to this report.”

The insurance industry, however, would prefer it if the definition and specifics of the tariffs were to stay out of the bill.

The ABI’s head of motor and liability policy, Rob Cummings said: “The Civil Liability Bill will fix a broken system and help millions of motorists who have seen their insurance premiums go up in the last two years.

”We favour keeping both the definition of a whiplash injury and the tariffs in secondary legislation to make it easier for the reforms to be updated in future to ensure they remain up-to-date and effective. This is a common sense approach, and one that will still involve Parliamentary scrutiny.”