As Philip Hammond delivers
2016’s autumn statement, we’re dealing with the plans laid out last year by his
predecessor. The consultation published last week shows that the Government’s proposed whiplash reforms have changed. Originally, the intention was to
scrap compensation for whiplash claims, now there is a ‘middle ground’ position
of paying an insultingly low sum of money which bears no relation to the
appropriate figure for damages as decided by the courts.
The proposal quite simply
strips injured people of rights they have had for hundreds of years. It is an
erosion of justice. If someone has, through their own fault, driven their car
into you negligently, and you genuinely suffer a painful injury, you have a
right to be compensated. The Government intends for an insurer to fix the car,
but not the person. Do we now value metal more than flesh and bone?
Compensation is a key element
of a civilised society. If it is for a late train no-one bats an eyelid about
making a claim. Why then, does being physically injured make you a second class
citizen? Why should a ‘minor’ injury lasting for six or nine months be
undeserving of compensation, yet the minor inconvenience of a 30 minute train
delay deserve immediate redress?
Soft tissue injuries such as
whiplash can be debilitating. Picture the casual construction worker who cannot
perform the job; the self-employed painter who cannot lift his arm above his
shoulder, losing clients and his reputation in the process; the nursery worker
who cannot pick up the babies in her care; or the elderly driver who has lost
her confidence to drive as a result of the accident, becoming housebound.
But the proposals are not
limited to the management of whiplash claims. Behind the populist title,
designed to engender public support because of the enduring perception of fraud,
there is a proposal that all injury claims up to £5,000 are heard in the
small claims court. The small claims court is designed for sorting out problems
with faulty fridges - not for hearing sensitive abuse cases, or debating the
value of a shoulder dislocated by faulty machinery in the workplace, or for
helping the cyclist who broke their collar bone when they were hit by an errant
The worst thing? The fact
that injured people, without the support of a lawyer, will have to front all
the upfront costs themselves - the court fee, the fees to produce medical
records, and the fee for the medical examination. Fees will be hundreds of
pounds. The financial hurdle alone will slam the door firmly shut in their face.
Injured people can choose to
represent themselves through a complex, difficult and outdated process and
cross their fingers that they have done what is required for a good outcome.
They could choose to fund advice and assistance from a lawyer out of their own
damages - assuming they have sufficient damages to make it viable, or they
could choose to give up their claim altogether.
Victims lose out twice - once
because they suffer a bodily injury, and then again because their rights to
redress and representation are being undermined.
That is no justice at all.