If you are trying to run a personal injury practice, you may be feeling pretty frustrated right now. You know that the government intends to extend the road traffic accident protocol vertically to higher value cases (up to £25,000) by next April. You know it will also be extended horizontally, to include employers’ and public liability.
But there is an awful lot more that you don’t know – all of which is fundamental to your business planning and resource management. You don’t know what the level of the new fixed fees is going to be, for RTA, employers’ or public liability, for example. You don’t know how employers’ and public liability is going to be defined; what will be the exit points for cases under the protocol (and just what precisely will they exit into); or what will be the exceptions – if any.
That’s quite a lot that you’re still in the dark about.
Okay, so the beginning of April is still nearly seven months away; but – following a roundtable for representative groups earlier in March - the Ministry of Justice has not set out any plans as to how it intends to address these issues, and what stakeholder meetings it will be holding to inform its decisions.
Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly (as he still was this morning) says that MoJ officials are ‘working to address concerns’ that the timetable for implementation is too tight; but it is not being put back.
Meanwhile, lawyers are also waiting for the MoJ to issue its consultation on raising the personal injury small claims limit to £5,000, which had been promised ‘this summer’ – and that is still the line being given by the government. Clearly the MoJ is under pressure in terms of its own resources; it is being expected to make hefty financial savings, but at the same time faces a challenging legislative programme – and no doubt its officials are working flat out.
But the danger is that, with no prospect of putting back the April deadline, the implementation of these changes could end up being a rush job; with fee levels and other important details sprung on lawyers without giving them adequate time to plan ahead.
That doesn’t have to happen; but if the changes are to be properly thought through - with input from both claimants and defendants - , this process needs to kick off sooner rather than later.
As one frustrated personal injury lawyer put it to me last week: ‘Some of us have got businesses to run.’
Rachel Rothwell is editor of Litigation Funding magazine, providing in-depth coverage on costs and the financing of litigation.
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