Justice minister Lord Keen of Elie (Richard Keen QC) today insisted litigants in person would be able to navigate the small claims process once solicitors are effectively taken out of the equation.
In evidence to the justice committee, the Conservative peer showed no inclination to reverse government policy on increasing the small claims limit from £1,000 to £5,000 for RTA claims and £2,000 for all other personal injury claims.
During exchanges with MPs, Keen appeared to accept there would be an increase in self-represented people but said the pre-action protocol for claims will be changed accordingly to make it ‘user-friendly’. Where a claim has become too complex for this system, he suggested, judges will move the case from the small claims track onto the fast track. Judges' approach, the minister said, would be 'rather more proactive' than it had historically been.
Keen admitted he did not know how many fraudulent claims are made each year, but he predicted that the number of personal injury claims will fall once people ‘pause and think about the merits of their claim before they make it’.
Keen suggested those pursuing a claim without legal representation can turn to Citizens Advice Bureau, although he later conceded the Ministry of Justice had not discussed this provision with the CAB.
‘Since 1991 such claims under £1,000 have been dealt with without any real difficulty,’ said Keen. ‘In the event that even a minor claim raises complex issues of causation or statutory liability, which can happen, then it can be removed to the fast track, which is a different process altogether. Either the judge or the party can suggest that there has to be a move.’
Following earlier evidence from witnesses who described the flaws in relying on claims management companies to look after claimants, Keen backed this sector to come to the fore. ‘Good CMCs look after their customers and if the claims management companies move into this market that can be extremely beneficial,’ said Keen. ‘Of course we are concerned about the behavior of some rogue CMCs and we are increasing regulation in this area, but there is no reason to suggest that substituting some CMCs for BTE insurance is a bad thing.
‘It may mean CMCs come into part of the market they have not been in before – that is not in of itself a bad thing.’
In written evidence to the justice committee, the Law Society pointed out that unrepresented claimants will be contesting cases with defendant insurers with recourse to formal legal advice.
Society president Joe Egan said this inequality of arms could be exacerbated by litigants in person struggling to find a medical expert to assess their claim. 'The steps that can be required in low-value personal claims are extensive and can be just as complex as cases of significantly higher value,' he said. 'Even so-called small claims include complicated issues of liability and the need for expert evidence such as medical reports. It is far from straightforward for a lay person to get the appropriate medical evidence to support a claim.'