Legislation that would radically change the personal injury market and overhaul the courts has been dropped in the runup to the general election.
House of Commons leader David Lidington confirmed in parliament today that the Prisons and Courts Bill has been abandoned.
The legislation, which had yet to clear the committee stage, has been under threat since prime minister Theresa May announced her intention to call a general election on 8 June. MPs on the bill committee this morning voted unanimously to scrap the legislation.
Parliament is set to be dissolved at the start of next month and the government will not include the bill in the so-called ‘wash-up’ of legislation rushed through in some form. The Criminal Finances Bill will be kept alive with lords amendments scheduled for next Thursday.
If the opinion polls are correct the decision to scrap the courts bill probably means only a temporary halt to plans for a tariff system for whiplash damages and a ban on pre-medical offers. It also postpones any prisons reform, changes to the treatment of domestic violence victims in court and legislatory changes required for the online court to get the go-ahead.
It is open to the next government to resurrect measures included in the bill, although that is likely to take some time and could be subject to a decision by a new lord chancellor.
The news is likely to receive a mixed reaction from stakeholders: prison campaign reformers will be dismayed that much-needed changes are being put back.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said: 'We are pleased this decision will provide a chance for a re-think on the misguided whiplash reforms which would deny people access to justice and clog up the court system.
'We hope that the new government elected in June will make an absolute priority in re-introducing the proposals providing protection for victims of domestic violence from being cross-examined by their abusers in the family court, as well as statutory provisions to help bring the courts and procedures into the 21st century.'
Personal injury lawyers opposing the bill, however, will be pleased to see the postponemment of the October 2018 date earmarked for sweeping changes.
Huw Evans, director general of the Association of British Insurers, said the new government will now have the chance to group whiplash reforms with changes to the method for calculating the discount rate for personal injury payments.
‘The task now is to win the argument for both issues to be dealt with as a priority in the new parliament so there are no major delays to much needed reform,’ said Evans.
‘Issues like the increased cost of insurance for motorists and businesses and the £6bn bill for the NHS are not going to go away, so the incentives for a new government to act promptly are there.’