When Lord Justice Jackson unveiled his fixed costs grand plan in January, there was disbelief at both its scope – covering all civil claims up to £250,000 – and its proposed timing, to be implemented ‘during the course of this year’.
Now we learn that the wheels are cranking into motion. As with road traffic accident claims in 2009, the Civil Justice Council will provide the forum for lawyers to thrash out the issues, with the first meeting this week. Fixed costs will be a huge benefit to defendants, and their lawyers will be keen to point out that they have acted for fixed fees for insurer clients for many years. For claimants, much rests on the eventual level of the fees. Pitched right, clients can benefit from certainty over cost. But set them too low and there is a real danger that an alarming swathe of meritorious claims becomes too uneconomic for any lawyer to bring – even with an extra contribution from the client.
At this early stage, there are many questions about how the reforms will work; and some regard Jackson’s £250,000 threshold as more of an opening shot than a real expectation. Indeed, the lord chief justice recently expressed a preference for an ‘incremental rise’ rather than ‘one big bang’.
But whatever shape the reforms ultimately take, one aspect of Jackson’s plan that should be abandoned from the outset is the notion of implementation in 2016. Changes such as this ought not to be rushed.