Solicitors should be taken out of the loop when it comes to dealing with lower-value, less complex litigation where defendants are insured - because insurance companies would provide a quicker and cheaper remedy, the Master of the Rolls has suggested.

Speaking at a roundtable of leading figures from the litigation industry - held last month by the Gazette's sister publication, Litigation Funding - Lord Phillips said there was a 'mass of small litigation' where defendants are backed by insurance or are public authority self-insured that could benefit from a streamlined process.

'Why is it so awful to suggest that the insurance companies take over, basically, the very small cases?' he asked.

Lord Phillips said that one example was simple road-traffic accident cases.

'Anybody who was injured would simply go to an adjudicator who would be independent, would look at the case and say, "This looks like a genuine one.

Our view at the moment is so and so.

What do you think?", 'he explained.

'The case would not go near a lawyer, although the adjudicator might well be one.'

Kerry Underwood, managing partner at Hemel Hempstead firm Underwoods, argued that farming cases out to insurers was not the way to tackle the problem.

'All claims in the fast-track could be speeded up through better use of technology and through abolishing the protocols,' he said.

'There is also the issue of public mistrust if insurance companies are deciding their own cases.'

Claire McKinney, president of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers, said the Association of British Insurers and the government were already looking into a bigger role for insurers.

'The Master of the Rolls' comments will be music to insurers' ears,' she predicted.

Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva warned that without proper legal advice, 'such a scheme would result in a clear imbalance of power and leave victims vulnerable'.

By Paula Rohan

See [2004] Gazette, 29 April, page 22