The government’s whiplash reforms are an attack on access to justice, the legal profession and genuine victims, according to shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter.
Slaughter (pictured) accused the government, which unveiled its proposals on Tuesday, of ignoring root causes of problems with personal injury claims, such as cold calling and the behaviour of claims management companies.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling wants to create an independent panel of medical experts to diagnose whiplash and lift the small claims limit from £1,000 to £5,000.
The proposals come a year after the government appeared to rule out increasing the small claims limit and ignored the recommendations of Sir Rupert Jackson, who wanted it to remain at £1,000 in his 2009 report on the civil justice system.
Slaughter told the Gazette it was ‘fanciful’ to think litigants could represent themselves on cases where the general damages were as high as £5,000.
He said his party would wait until the final reforms are established before deciding exactly what it would do in power, but a Labour government would ‘certainly want to tilt the scales back in favour of the victim’.
Slaughter said: ‘The government is using whiplash as a front for further restrictions in the provision of legal advice in road traffic accident claims, including ones which are medically and legally complex and serious.
‘It is odd that the government itself rejected raising the small claims limit for personal injury to £5,000 earlier this year, as have all previous reviews over the last 15 years, yet have now backtracked on this less than 12 months later.’
He added that accident victims will have to rely entirely on the insurance industry either to make them an offer or sell them legal insurance.
Whilst the Association of British Insurers has trumpeted the £2bn cost of whiplash claims, Slaughter pointed out that just 7% of those claims were thought to be fraudulent.
He added: ‘This risks being a windfall for insurers but at no stage have consumers been given any indication that their car insurance premiums will fall.’
The consultation is now open until 8 March.