The personal injury sector is once again aghast and perplexed with recent confirmation from our justice minister, Lord Faulks, that there will be no U-turn with regards to the Government’s controversial plans to scrap general damages for whiplash claims and raise the small claims limit to £5000 for all personal injury claims.
The ‘reforms’ were announced in November last year by chancellor George Osborne and many within the legal sector, concerned by the anticipated resulting monumental impact and infraction upon claimants’ access to justice, were hopeful that the chagrin expressed by those within the legal sector would force, at the very least, a backtracking of sorts. Alas, this is not to be. Faulk’s belief, firmly expressed at the annual conference of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers last week, is that the ‘time is right’ to increase the personal injury threshold from £1000 (a level it has been at for the past 25 years) as part of a wider set of reforms.
It is the Government’s contention that such changes will prevent fraudulent and inappropriate claims and that drivers will ultimately enjoy a reduction in their car insurance premiums. This is because insurers will supposedly not be paying out for claims alleged to be less merit-worthy or even bogus. Of course, this assertion assumes that insurance companies will pass on savings made to their customers and it would appear that this is a huge assumption to make. At the conference, Lord Faulks was asked where the savings already made from the Jackson reforms had gone because, generally speaking, it would appear that drivers are paying higher premiums than ever before. Lord Faulks conceded that he did not know what happened to the savings made by insurance companies, but continued to assert that future savings would be passed on to drivers – this comment caused some amusement at the conference.
So, we have reached a position where our Government seems resolute and determined in its plans for change, though we have no clear indication exactly how these changes will be implemented, despite six months having passed since the chancellor’s announcement of his plans for reform. The lack of clear strategy in this regard is hardly reassuring. Moreover, there are calls from many within the legal profession for the general public to be made aware of such plans. Currently seemingly oblivious, the general public will no doubt be up in arms when (following the eventual introduction of the recently affirmed reforms) they find themselves in a position where they are unable to find a solicitor willing (or able?) to take on a damages claim which is valued at less than £5000. Ultimately, it seems that appropriate access to justice and the rights of claimants take a back seat to accommodate the interests of the insurance company giants and a government only too willing to oblige.