Some of the country’s leading personal injury firms are preparing to mount a legal challenge to the government’s reforms to the whiplash claims system.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling (pictured) announced plans on Tuesday for a new panel of independent medical experts, allocated to claimants on a cab-rank rule.
The system will be applied to all expert reports by April, with experts registered and accredited by the start of 2016. MedCo, the not-for-profit company set up to administer the system, will go live early next year.
The Gazette understands that several leading personal injury firms have formed an alliance to prepare to seek a judicial review of the plans.
These include Express Solicitors, Jefferies Solicitors, Winn Solicitors, Savas and Savage Solicitors, Thorneycroft Solicitors, Quindell Legal Services and JMW Solicitors. A further five medical reporting agencies are also involved.
Their contention is that the MedCo system will impede people’s ability to prepare their own claim and so infringe their human rights.
Mark Jones, a partner at Manchester firm JMW and the lawyer acting for the group, said the firms share the government’s wish to clamp down on fraudulent claims. But denying claimants a choice in medical experts was a ‘quantum leap’ that is both irrational and anti-competitive, he said.
He said: ‘It cannot be right that a claimant is refused the right to carefully select a properly qualified and accredited expert and is told instead they must choose someone from a more limited list made available to them.’
The group is also concerned that the changes could herald similar changes across other types of personal injury claims.
‘Government has been telling us that it wants to support entrepreneurial business,’ said Jones.
‘And yet, at the same time, they would be preventing many law firms and medical agencies from conducting and expanding their current enterprises which could lead to serious adverse consequences, including selling or closing parts of their operations and making staff redundant.’
The government has stated that the new scheme will be a ‘robust’ system for sourcing suitable experts and will remove conflict of interest from the system.
Justice minister Lord Faulks said: ‘Although such changes may result in challenges to the way the sector works, they also provide opportunities for new and innovative working practices to develop going forward. The new system will still allow room for competition on quality, capacity, expertise and reputation.’