2017 has been a year of change. An unplanned election caused Government instability, and Brexit continued to dominate the minds of those in power, causing ongoing delay in reform programs. So what have been the gains and the losses for the injured person and his representative?
The ongoing spectre of reforms to the way people with whiplash and ‘low-value’ injuries claimed compensation loomed large, but with the unplanned election the Bill containing the legislation no sooner came than went. And whilst presumably it is drafted, it hasn’t been seen since. The Ministry of Justice is however beavering away with steering groups and sub-committees, trying to work out what any process should look like. It is keen to get it right. The removal of representation in personal injury claims if they go through the small claims court presents some huge sticking points for access to justice: how to ensure the right outcome; what to do when a defendant disputes liability; how to ensure a digital process is accessible by all injured people, no matter what language they speak, what disability they may have, and what technology skills they have.
APIL’s campaign to ban cold calling gained traction in 2017 and there are promises of amendments to the Financial Guidance and Claims bill which could make this a reality. Still on the topic of whiplash, the popular APIL injury prevention day further promoted our ‘Back Off’ campaign to stop drivers from tailgating, which gained support of insurers, police organisations, and charities alike.
The latest report from Lord Justice Jackson introduced proposals to extend the regime in which solicitors’ costs are fixed at each stage of a claim for low-value cases, into higher-value claims. Jackson had paid heed to serious concerns about the application of fixed costs to complex cases worth up to £250,000, and so proposed a concession, with fixed costs in cases up to £100,000 where there were no more than two experts on each side and the trial could be limited to three days. Jackson also wanted to see fixed costs extended across all areas of personal injury law where cases are of a lower-value, including holiday sickness claims. The Ministry of Justice meanwhile got to work on travel claims, and implementation is likely to be April next year.
There have been some ‘mixed bag’ proposals. Plans to fix costs in clinical negligence cases up to £250,000 were downsized to £25,000 through targeted campaigning and well-evidenced policy argument. But proposals to fix the claims process for these cases, to fit the fixed costs, was nowhere to be seen. Jackson LJ suggested a streamlined bespoke process be set for these low value clinical negligence claims with an attached fixed cost regime, and this idea will be progressed by a Civil Justice Council working party in the New Year.
But finally the big win for the injured person. After years of significant pressure from APIL the Government finally announced that the discount applied to an injured person’s compensation payment to offset any return on their investments was reduced from 2.5 per cent to -0.75 per cent. The new rate reflects the fact that injured people must make riskier investments in order to make their compensation stretch. Inevitably, after considerable lobbying from the insurance industry, a consultation followed on how the discount rate should be calculated in the future to get a different answer; how regularly the rate should be reviewed; and who, if not the Lord Chancellor, should make the decision. The Government is considering proposals which they feel would deliver a discount rate of between 0-1 per cent. However, we end the year with the discount rate of -0.75 per cent still in place, still delivering a future of certainty for injured people.
So we await the decisions of 2018, not as idle onlookers, but as an organisation constantly influencing and shaping the Government agenda. Happy New Year!