A Conservative peer and leading figure in the defendant law sector has failed in a bid to abolish damages payments for less-serious claims.
Lord Hunt of Wirral (pictured), a partner at international firm DAC Beachcroft, sought legislation in the House of Lords to prevent courts awarding damages where the victim has suffered a ‘loss of function’ of less than 15%.
Hunt proposed amendments to the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (Sarah) currently being debated in the chamber.
The peer said he wanted to substitute treatment for payment in low-value cases and focus on ‘getting people better rather than by paying them cash’.
Hunt said: ‘UK motorists do not have the weakest necks in Europe; we have a whiplash culture because as a society we have not taken the same stance as other European countries to avoid these claims in the first place.
‘In other countries you have to prove a level or percentage of disability before you can even make a claim.’
Hunt said he ‘borrowed substantially’ from a report published in July by insurer Aviva, which argued that reform of compensation payments could save £32 on every motorist’s car insurance premium.
The peer said claims farmers ‘continue to proliferate’ despite the ban on referral fees, and said organised ‘crash for cash’ schemes had become a ‘huge industry’.
Cross-bencher Lord Pannick said the amendment would ‘fundamentally alter’ the scope and effectiveness of the bill, which is designed to make courts consider the context of an action that is the subject of a liability claim.
Pannick said: ‘They would prohibit the courts from awarding damages in respect of personal injury in defined circumstances. The existing provisions of the bill simply identify factors for the court to take into account in deciding whether there has been a breach of the duty of care.’
Justice minister Lord Faulks said Hunt was right to flag up the ‘unattractive landscape’ where it is easier for insurance companies to pay out rather than contest cases.
But he said the focus of the bill was on liability rather than quantum and Hunt's amendment should not form part of the bill. He added that fraudulent claims were being dealt with by the ‘fundamentally dishonest’ strike-out clause in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill currently going through the House of Lords.
Hunt withdrew the amendment.
After the debate, shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter claimed the motion was a ‘worrying’ indicator of potential Conservative policy. ‘A future Tory government would stack the deck in favour of their funders and supporters even if this means undermining long-set principles of common law.’