A senior civil servant in the Ministry of Justice has strongly denied that the new system for compensating lower-value claims is compromised by its financing from the insurance industry.
David Parkin, deputy director for civil justice and law at the MoJ, said it was wrong to suggest the new portal for personal injury claims would be in any way ‘captive’ to the interests of insurers.
Speaking at the Westminister Legal Policy Forum in London last week, Parkin confirmed the portal, which will apply to whiplash claims valued at less than £5,000, is being developed with funds from insurance companies, rather than MoJ funds.
The intention, it was confirmed, is to develop an ‘easy-to-use whiplash portal to settle claims without the need for representation’. This is still expected to come into force in April 2020, and Parkin confirmed the portal will apply only to accidents occurring on or after that date.
He told delegates: ‘The decision on that portal and how it is used and applied to litigants in person is in the hands of the lord chancellor. He is the decision maker. That is absolutely critical. As we develop that portal it is not just the insurance industry helping us to develop it – we have a vast range of stakeholders from the claimant lawyer side.
‘Ministers are keen to draw in as many people as possible. I totally reject this is in some way a conflict of interest.’
Parkin did concede that several major challenges remain, particularly over how the system will cater for those who cannot make a claim online. Further challenges include how to connect medical reports from independent experts, incorporating alternative dispute resolution, and deciding on the right number of claims moderators. A call centre is likely to be established to handle enquiries from people making claims.
Testing is still on course for October, with Parkin adding that ministers believe it important to ‘get this right rather than get it done quickly’.
The portal is necessary because the government plans to introduce secondary legislation to increase the small claims limit to £5,000 for soft tissue injury claims. A fixed tariff for damages, as included in the Civil Liability Act, will also come into force in April 2020.
Speaking at the same conference, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers’ president Brett Dixon warned that the government was in danger of focusing too much on the development of IT rather than on victims’ needs. ‘Injured people must not be held to ransom by the government’s 2020 deadline for the introduction of these tariffs if the system does not work,’ said Dixon. ‘The process available must help them, and to do that it must work fairly and efficiently. At the moment, it does neither.’