Honest claimants will go into battle against well-resourced insurers without legal representation if government proposals go ahead, the Law Society has warned. Chancery Lane was one of many interested parties responding to the Ministry of Justice consultation on reforms that would have a major impact on the personal injury sector.
Claimant firms across the spectrum have made representations to the government in a bid to influence, which closes today.
One of the headline changes involves raising the small claims limit to £5,000 for all personal injury claims.
The Law Society, ahead of publication of its full response, said the reform – which could be implemented as soon as April – will create a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario, where ordinary claimants suffer from inequality of arms.
President Robert Bourns said: ‘The government’s belief that raising the small claims limit for personal injury claims to £5,000 and abandoning general damages for "minor" whiplash injuries will help stop fraudulent claims is wholly misguided.
‘There is a real danger to justice if government stops those who have legitimate claims from obtaining the compensation they are entitled to and which helps them get back on their feet.’
The Society also opposes plans to limit or scrap general damages for soft tissue injuries, saying these would remove a ‘fundamental legal right’.
Bourns added that if insurers believe a claim lacks merit they should fight it: he argued these reforms stop people making legitimate claims.
Cheshire firm Aegis Legal said in its response that the proposals give the impression that insurers’ profits are more important than injured people’s rights.
It said the impact of other civil justice reforms – including the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act – has yet to be assessed or reviewed, and called for these to be given time to bed in.
Yorkshire firm True Solicitors said it supported efforts to tackle fraud but argued the MoJ proposals would not solve whatever problems exist.
Partner Paul Drabble said: ‘We strongly object to these proposals because not only do they remove access to justice for genuine accident victims, but they do so based on anecdotal evidence and information that is demonstrably incorrect.’
London firm Hodge Jones & Allen described the plans as ‘scandalous’ and warned they would disproportionately affect the young, elderly, mentally incapacitated, those with special needs and people for whom English is not their first language.
‘They will be the people least able to bring their own claims without legal assistance, which will be the result of the MoJ plans,’ said HJA’s response.
‘These proposals will place individuals in an even more vulnerable position as they face up to organised legal teams alone.’
Consultant solicitor John Holtom, from Luton-based Legal Solutions Partnership, said there was no dispute that the PI business has become ‘disreputable, intrusive, a matter of embarrassment to practitioners and non-practitioners alike’.
However he continued: ‘The solution proposed to tear up social justice and reward the insurance industry which has partaken of, and profited from, the mess, is misdirected.’