A group of personal injury law firms has begun a legal challenge to the government’s plans for vetting whiplash claims.
The Ministry of Justice announced in December that diagnosis of the injury would be made by a panel of independent accredited medical professionals.
The panel, led by the newly formed MedCo company, would remove any financial link between law firms and medical reporting agencies on particular claims, and initiate a ‘cab rank’ rule requiring lawyers to use an allocated expert.
But a number of firms have joined together to submit an application to the High Court in Manchester seeking a judicial review of the reforms. They argue that ministers failed to consult adequately before announcing the amendments and that the restrictions are irrational and unfair.
Mark Jones (pictured), a partner at north-west firm JMW Solicitors, which is acting for the group, said talks with the MoJ about amending the plans have been unsuccessful.
‘Given the considerable impact which these changes will have on how clients pursue whiplash claims and the prospect of further consequences for those making other types of personal injury and civil claims, we view a judicial review as a very necessary step to take,’ said Jones.
The firms are 'in full agreement' with ministers and insurers about the need to clamp down on fraudulent claims, he said. 'However we believe that what has been proposed is not only the wrong way to go about doing so but has such potential to impede justice as to require the course of action that we’ve now embarked upon.'
The government has been clear that there can be no financial link between law firms filing claims and medical reporting organisations that diagnose injuries. The potential for conflict of interest, it argues, increases the likelihood of fraudulent whiplash claims being made.
If the High Court agrees there are grounds for a review, a full hearing could take place before the summer.
The Gazette understands that the firms involved are Express Solicitors Limited, Jefferies Solicitors Limited, Winn Solicitors Limited, JMW Solicitors LLP, Medical Reports Limited, Ontime Reports Limited, Lawyers Medical Agencies Limited, On Medical Limited and Adept Medical Reports Limited.
The new scheme will be phased in from next month. From 6 April, all claim notification forms for a soft tissue injury must be commissioned from a medical expert or organisation sourced through MedCo.
With effect from 1 January 2016, medical experts must be accredited by MedCo in order to provide the initial fixed-cost medical report in a soft tissue injury claim.