Government plans to introduce a new process for handling low-value road traffic claims this autumn are under serious threat, the Gazette can reveal.
Talks between all sides to define how the process should work – which it had been hoped would be completed by Christmas – have been deadlocked, and the Ministry of Justice has called in the Civil Justice Council to conduct a series of three mediations, concluding in June.
Even if mediation succeeds, the advisory committee on civil costs has to cost the system, the Civil Procedure Rule committee has to approve the new rules, and both sides will need time to adapt technology and train staff ahead of the planned implementation in October.
The Gazette has been told that the rule committee is unlikely to see any draft rules until October, making 2010 a more likely start date. The changes could also be affected by Lord Justice Jackson’s review of litigation costs.
Speaking recently in London, Amanda Stevens, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: ‘Conceptually I still find [the October] target date problematic… No one has sufficient information to commence proper training or technological change. We have been calling consistently for the whole scheme to be properly piloted and based on solid empirical research data. Unfortunately, there is no place for this in the MoJ’s timetable.’
John Spencer, chairman of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, said the MoJ’s timetable is ‘very demanding’, but one the department ‘is determined to stick to and we’re all doing what we can to hit it’.
An MoJ spokeswoman said it had called in the council ‘to mediate the small number of outstanding process issues before considering the level of fee-earner and the amount of time it will take for each stage of the process.
‘We continue to aim to be in a position to implement the new process in October 2009. However, the final implementation date must be subject to discussions as to readiness with stakeholders and to necessary changes to the Civil Procedure Rules, practice directions and protocols being approved by the civil procedure rule committee.’
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