Extra care must be taken before any sweeping further reforms to lower-value personal injury claims system, a group of industry experts has agreed.
The working group of the Civil Justice Council has published its 67-page report into the future of claims under £25,000, focusing on how to progress cases cheaper and quicker, and how to root out more unmeritorious claims.
The report covers topics including the extension of the existing small claims portal, fixed recoverable costs, the scope of MedCo and qualified one-way costs shifting. The group was made up of people from the claimant and defendant sectors and perhaps unsurprisingly was unable to reach consensus on a number of contentious issues.
But there was general agreement that more needs to be done to cater for litigants in person forced to navigate the claims system without legal representation.
‘The rules for SCT claims must be written in a form that is clear and intelligible to the lay individual,’ said the report. ‘This is in relation both to what is required to process a claim and how to use the on-line system. These rules should promote the prompt disclosure of all evidence relied upon and streamline and automate the process.’
The group calls for a ‘comprehensive’ pre-action protocol to be drawn up as the official injury claim portal is set live for whiplash claims from April. Any extension of this portal to other types of case will require ‘great care’ and should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. The setting of fixed recoverable costs, which is set to be resolved next year by the Ministry of Justice, needs to be ‘properly considered in the light of adequate data’.
The group recommends that the MedCo system for diagnosing whiplash claims should be adapted if it is to apply to other PI claims – taking away the ‘randomisation’ of expert selection and bringing in specialist medical experts to assess more complex injuries.
The report warns that as an increased number of claims fall to be dealt with on the small claims track, an adequate number of district judges must be available to prevent the system becoming overloaded.
In terms of unmeritorious cases, the existing claims portal behaviour committee should have greater powers to tackle poor behaviour and there should be more interaction with regulators such as the SRA to stamp out unreasonable conduct.
Group chair Nicola Critchley said: ‘The drivers behind unmeritorious claims are multifactorial and there is no magic bullet to address them. This report emphasises the care needed when devising and implementing further reforms and the importance of monitoring progress and outcomes.’