On the off chance you are invited to dinner round Lord Keen of Elie’s place, it’s best to establish a few details. There is a chance he hasn’t checked to see if there’s food in the fridge. It’s possible he doesn’t know how many others are coming, and you may have to don the apron and cook the thing yourself.
At least that was the impression Keen gave before MPs this morning. Before the House of Commons justice committee he wore the expression of someone desperately trying to recall when it’s bin day.
An openly sceptical justice committee was quizzing the minister on the personal injury reform programme. Keen's approach could reasonably be characterised as ‘it’ll be fine’, without a great deal of evidence to show how.
What about the litigants in person, MPs asked? They can consult with their union, he replied.
And those without a union? Ah, said Keen, here was where the Citizens Advice Bureau would step in to help.
Had Keen spoken to any CABs? Not as such, but they’re sure to find time in their wide-open diaries to pitch in.
Keen missed one further problem: what exactly were litigants supposed to do if Citizens Advice told them they did have a claim? Keen made the point that people could still pay for a lawyer at this stage, if they wished, in the same way they might pay for a Ferrari to get to court.
The minister seemed assured that judges would have the time and inclination to move complex cases onto the fast track and the mirage of costs recovery. This assurance came just minutes after two judges had told the committee the bench would struggle to manage its workload as it was.
Another option for claimants might be to seek help from claims management companies, whose increasing influence might be ‘extremely beneficial’. Keen stressed that this endorsement was limited to ‘good’ CMCs, as opposed to rogue companies who would obviously be disinclined to take advantage of litigants in person.
At least Keen had done his homework on one of the key reasons for reform, hadn’t he? The minister outlined that up to 90% of RTA claims were caused by whiplash, adding that ‘many’ of these were fraudulent.
Labour MP David Hanson piped up immediately: 'how many are fraudulent?'
Keen’s response of ‘we don’t know’ failed to sate Hanson’s curiosity.
‘We have an indication from data,’ Keen went on. ‘You have to make qualitative assessments in this context.’ Who needs evidence anyway?