Legislation intended to reform the personal injury small claims sector looks set to be halted until September at the earliest.
The government confirmed this morning the parliamentary schedule until the summer recess on 24 July – and crucially the second reading of the Civil Liability Bill was not included.
The bill has progressed through the House of Lords and has yet to be debated the Commons, but the delay means it will not now reappear until 5 September at the earliest, when parliament returns.
Even then, MPs sit for just six working days before parliament rises again for a month for the party conference season. The government has said it intends to enact reforms by April 2019, but there is increasing scepticism this is realistic - especially if they involve a new portal for litigants in person to handle their own claims.
Such delays will be bittersweet for claimant lawyers who may welcome a delay in the legislation but who also need clarity about when key changes are coming into force.
The bill will introduce a fixed tariff for whiplash damages at vastly reduced rates. It will also be accompanied by an increase in the small claims limit to £5,000 for RTA claims – meaning lawyers representing these claimants cannot recover costs from the defendant party.
Andrew Twambley, spokesperson for Access to Justice (A2J), which is campaigning against the reforms, pointed out that lawyers have faced almost three years of uncertainty since reforms were first proposed in November 2015 by former chancellor George Osborne.
‘It is evident from government claims data that whiplash claims and the cost of whiplash claims are now falling rapidly, and the longer the government delays, the clearer it becomes that the market is doing its job for it.
‘We hope to use these next few months to point out to ministers that there are better ways to strike the right balance between reducing frivolous claims and making sure injured people continue to have protection.’