Controversy about fixed fees for personal injury cases raged last week as the timetable for their apparently inevitable introduction appeared to slip.
Dozens of clinical negligence lawyers besieged Westminster in a coordinated effort to dissuade MPs from supporting government moves to limit costs.
Legal commentators are also casting doubt on the government’s ability to establish a wider scheme of fixed recoverable costs in the next year.
Lord Justice Jackson published detailed proposals on 31 July for extending fixed recoverable costs (FRC) in civil claims. These included the introduction of fixed costs throughout the remainder of the fast track, as well as in certain claims worth up to £100,000, which would be dealt with under a streamlined ‘intermediate track’. The fixed costs grid would include ‘complexity bands’ to reflect the amount of work involved.
Solicitor Kerry Underwood, who assisted Jackson LJ with the fixed costs review, said he believed its implementation would indeed be delayed – noting that there has been no statement from the government on when consultation on the reforms would begin.
‘Lord Justice Jackson’s fixed costs proposals are more detailed than they might have been, and are clearly capable of being taken forward into the multi-track in due course,’ he said. ‘While I fully support the concept of different complexity bands, this does make the job of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee rather lengthier.’
Costs expert Dominic Regan added: ‘The target date for implementation [of the fixed costs extension] was October 2018 prior to the disruption generated by the election and its aftermath. Realistically, I think April 2019 is now a sensible objective.’
While Jackson supported the concept of FRC, he also said health ministers and the Civil Justice Council should set up a working party, including claimant and defendant representatives, to develop a bespoke process for clinical negligence claims initially valued up to £25,000.
The Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers has always rejected the idea of fixed costs for its sector, and members of the group met in parliament last week to speak directly with MPs.
‘We believe the most important issue here is patient safety – if there can be improvements and lessons learnt then the level of negligence will be reduced,’ said chairman Stephen Webber. ‘I do not accept the position of others who say FRC is inevitable.’
The Department of Health has yet to respond to its own separate consultation on fixed costs, a reform which the National Audit Office says will save £90m a year by 2020/21.