The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has supplied argument and evidence for years to oppose the government’s obsession with personal injury reform. The basis for reform is completely without merit, yet the government has been intransigent.
Lord Keen made it clear during debate on the Civil Liability Bill that the reforms are ‘policy’ decisions. In relation to a tariff for whiplash injuries, in particular, he said: ‘We are essentially taking a policy decision that there should be a tariff for this form of injury to deal with a very real issue.’
We want to see these policy decisions overturned in the Commons. MPs need to be persuaded to make important changes to the bill. The Justice Select Committee was persuaded by arguments that the reforms are not fair to injured people, so others can be too. Injured people need MPs to act.
The government has proven it is capable of being flexible with policy decisions. At report stage in the Lords it reversed its decision to involve the independent expert panel in the first review of the discount rate. This was the wrong decision and the government needs to reverse it back again. Independent experts should always be involved when the welfare of vulnerable people is at stake. If the rate is unfair, or subject to more ‘policy decisions’, five years is a long time to wait for it to be corrected.
APIL has been resolutely against the idea of a tariff-based system for general damages for whiplash injuries from the outset. Tariffs are appropriate for categorising taxi fares, not injuries. As Lord Justice Irwin says in the foreword to the latest edition of the Judicial College guidelines, ‘suffering is individual’.
But if tariffs must happen, the judiciary must be involved in deciding the amounts. Under duress, when feisty peers threatened to defeat the idea of tariffs altogether, Lord Keen offered to consult with the lord chief justice. This consultation must be genuine and not just a tick-box exercise. The tariff amounts must reflect Judicial College guidelines.
Only the judiciary has the authority to decide an appropriate level of redress for the pain and suffering caused by someone else’s failures. Tariffs should not be defined to suit government policy any more than the definition of whiplash should. The only credible definition of a whiplash injury is one made by medical experts.
Catastrophically injured people should be allowed to be risk-averse investors and APIL will continue to make that point as a matter of principle. They should not be forced to gamble the compensation assigned to meet their needs. We will also push MPs to ask the government how such savage cuts to redress will save policyholders less than £3 each a month, and whether it is worth it.
Brett Dixon, president, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers