The Justice Committee has heard evidence from Lord Keen of the Ministry of Justice and other interested parties on the reform proposals for personal injury claims.
Following his written statement to the Committee, Lord Keen stated there was macro evidence of a claims culture in the UK, highlighting motor claim volumes holding steady against a backdrop of falling accident numbers and increased vehicle safety, justifying the proposed changes.
Setting out the work currently in progress, he suggested that the reforms would result in claimants considering the consequences of pursuing a claim, and as a result, claim numbers would reduce.
During questioning by MPs, Lord Keen rejected suggestions that litigants-in-person might find access to justice restricted by the proposed changes to increase the small claims limit for road traffic related personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000, and for all other personal injury claims from £1,000 to £2,000. He stated those claims with complex issues, including employers liability claims, could still be placed in the fast track, highlighting the Citizens Advice Bureau as an alternative source of legal advice.
The proposed reforms were broadly supported by representatives from the Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL), who stated that the wider package of reforms including the proposed 'Online Court' would still deliver access to justice.
Concerns were expressed by representatives from the union, USDAW that the threat of litigation was the driver of standards in many workplaces, and the reforms would leave poorer, non-union workers without redress for workplace injury.
Alarm was also sounded regarding the potential for claims management companies to exploit the new system by a legal expenses provider. Lord Keen, however, expressed his view that 'good' CMCs were beneficial for Claimants, and that the proposed regulation of CMCs by the FCA should minimise the role of unscrupulous operators.
Evidence from Mrs Justice Simler and His Honour Judge Nigel Bird confirmed that collaborative efforts were underway for a redesigned version of the PI portal, but highlighted that there would be an increased burden on the Court system should more claims be allocated to the small claims track.
However, Simler J stated it was inappropriate for the judiciary to comment on the changes to the personal injury claims limits.
Lord Keen also highlighted that some insurers have stated that any savings from the reforms will be passed onto the consumer by way of reductions in premiums.
Whilst the evidence of Lord Keen served to reiterate the Government's determination to press on with the reforms, it is also apparent that a lot of work remains outstanding before they can be implemented.
The spectre of Brexit continues to loom over the legislative agenda and is only likely to further delay the reforms coming into effect.
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