Given that most of the planet has been wiped out by terrifying aliens, the film Independence Day ends on a remarkably happy note. President Bill Pullman rallies his troops and assures them the future is bright. You survived, he tells them, and that’s reason enough to celebrate. Now get digging those graves.
There’s been a similarly optimistic message coming from Celtic Manor this week, where the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has been holding its annual conference.
In fact, to see delegates last night, dressed in dinner jackets and ball gowns and dad-dancing to Blues Brothers tunes, you’d barely know the sector has had probably the most tumultuous year in its history.
Compared with last year, when attendees had their shoelaces and belts removed on entry, there has been an upbeat feel to #apil13. I swear I even saw someone smile last night, though he’ll probably lose that when he sees his bar bill on check-out.
Some of this will be the ‘head in sand’ brigade. Those who resolutely refuse to accept the effect of lower fixed fees and extensions to the claims portal. But there’s also an element to the conference of the relief that they survived 1 April. The world didn’t end; the aliens didn’t win.
Many have told me they are at pleased to have certainty about where they stand, even if the ground is shaky. Once the small-claims court limit is extended (although beware a further extension later this year) there can be no further kicks to the ribs.
It feels like the government has now moved on from attacking the PI sector to set its sights elsewhere, like those Independence Day invaders moving to a new city once they’d obliterated the previous one.
The optimism here may be genuine, but it would be wrong to say everything is rosy in the PI sector. For a start, those firms really struggling probably won’t be at the conference. I’m assured numbers attending this week have stayed the same as 2012, but it feels disingenuous to be talking about financial pressures in such grand surroundings as Celtic Manor.
And there is an acknowledgement that whilst there is calm on the surface, legs are furiously kicking beneath the water. Former president David Bott admitted there will be ‘carnage’ in the sector, and my only quibble with that would be that he should be using the present rather than the future tense.
My Twitter timeline certainly doesn’t reflect a content profession, with my followers either furious with the government or resigned to their fate.
The APIL conference has probably never been more parochial. I’m told national newspapers used to come down and cover the best bits – the press seats were conspicuously empty this time around.
There hasn’t been a single speaker from either the government or the Labour opposition. Last year then justice minister Jonathan Djanogly may not have showed up, but at least he sent a senior civil servant to read his speech.
I understand both Chris Grayling and Helen Grant were invited here this year, but were busy with other commitments.
The truth is this conference will make no ripples with the powers-that-be at Westminster. I’d be surprised if they even knew it was happening. When the ABI held its conference last month, they had the transport secretary, chair of the transport select committee and a former justice secretary – they have the ear of government and the claimants don’t.
Newport has been little more than a talking shop: preaching to the converted but failing to convert either the public or the political elite. But then perhaps that’s what the members needed this year – 2013 has been about laying foundations, not lobbying.
The fears and the threats are the same as when APIL members arrived in Wales, but they will at least leave with some of the joys of spring.
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter
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