The UK’s Civil Liability Bill is making its way towards becoming a law, passing its second reading in the House of Commons, but not without scrutiny beyond Parliament walls.
Perhaps the biggest critic of the proposed reforms is Access to Justice (A2J), whose spokesperson Andrew Twambley believes the latest debate “has made clear that the government has got its priorities wrong.” In A2J’s view, insurance firms are unfairly favoured in the whole endeavour to change personal injury claims in the UK.
“It (the government) has been hoodwinked by insurers and is not standing up for the rights of injured people,” commented Twambley, who called the reforms punitive. “Some reform is necessary, but the government’s current proposals tip the balance too far in favour of insurance companies.
“It’s not too late for ministers to make changes to their proposals to deliver a balanced package that safeguards the rights of injured people.”
Meanwhile Minster Law, one of the largest personal injury solicitors in the UK, has also expressed its concerns.
“It is bizarre that, whether the injured person is in a car, or a motorcycle, or riding a bicycle, will become a more important factor in deciding access to justice than the injury itself,” said Minster Law chief executive Shirley Woolham. “I hope the government will address these inconsistencies by ensuring a level playing field for all non-fault injuries and make sure all our citizens have their access to justice protected.”
From the perspective of a Clyde & Co partner, a couple of important areas need to be addressed.
“There remain two key issues: first, how whiplash will be defined by the legislation and second, the value of claim on which claimant solicitors can recover their costs,” noted the global law firm’s Mark Hemsted. “The ultimate definition of whiplash will have a major impact on this legislation’s ability to stamp out fraud. If it’s not broad enough – for example, it only includes neck injury – anyone with a bruise or scrape elsewhere will use this to avoid the proposed tariff-based systems of awards.”
Also crucial, according to Hemsted, is the sum at which the small claims limit is set.
“Currently it’s £1,000, so claimant solicitors can recover their costs from the losing party on relatively small claims,” he explained. “If the sum is raised to £5,000, claimant solicitors have a much bigger hurdle to leap before they can recover costs. That could deter claims – or it could lead to a sudden increase in the number of higher value claims as it clearly creates an incentive to go large, so to speak.”