Justice minister Lord Keen of Elie (Richard Keen QC) gave personal injury lawyers few crumbs of comfort today as he committed the government to sweeping reforms.
The minister told the annual conference of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers that the Civil Liability Bill is proceeding according to plan, with the second reading due in the House of Lords a week today.
The legislation would introduce a tariff system for whiplash injuries and ban settlement offers before victims have had a medical examination, along with changes to civil procedure rules raising the small claims limit for RTA claims to £5,000.
Lord Keen revealed little new of note in a 20-minute keynote speech and he left without taking questions. However he did allude to plans already being under way for to help claimants operate without lawyers. 'Just changing the rules without underpinning these changes would be unwise,' he said. 'We are working on the development of a new accessible IT system to provide helpful guidance and allow all claimants to access [medical diagnosis process] MedCo and other services where required.
'We have begun the process of engaging with the third sector advice providers to ensure appropriate help and support is available.'
Keen said the government 'fully expects' insurers to pass on any savings from the bill, which also includes changes to the way of calculating the discount rate, and said three-quarters of motor insurers have made such a commitment already.
He added that the MoJ would hold insurers to their promise, although he did not explain how, and would monitor the effect on insurance costs, with more action taken if savings are not being passed on.
Following Keen's speech, the conference heard from a panel of experts outlining how they expect the reforms to pan out.
Doug Christie, client director at national claimant firm Thompsons Solicitors, said delegates must ensure the public understands what is being enacted and he predicted that Keen may struggle when his proposals are challenged in parliament. Christie added: 'His argument is so weak that if it was a PI claim we would bin it on the first look.'