Increasing the small claims court limit for road accident victims could cause the court system to grind to a halt, according to the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).
The Government consultation ‘Reducing the number and cost of whiplash claims’, which closed last week, proposes to increase the number of road traffic cases which will be heard in the small claims court.
“The small claims court is designed for individuals to represent themselves, rather than use the assistance of a lawyer,” explained Karl Tonks, president of APIL.
“The problem is that evidence from family law cases, where there has recently been a huge increase in people representing themselves, shows that so-called ‘litigants in person’ can cause serious delays to the system.
“Without a legal ‘buffer’ to help people understand the system, people struggle to comply with court rules and judges regularly have to halt proceedings to explain the legal process,” said Tonks.
“The Government’s proposals could force hundreds of thousands more road traffic injury victims into the small claims court. If the family law experience tells us anything, it tells us that the courts could grind to a complete halt and chaos will be the result.”
Lawyers are also concerned that district judges will not be able to level the playing field between unrepresented injury victims and the defendants they have to face in court, who invariably have the benefit of legal advice.
“Judges are obliged to be impartial and fair to all parties, which inevitably means that, while they can assist individuals to some extent, they cannot actively advise either party,” Tonks went on. “Furthermore, an independent study has found that judges are more reluctant to intervene where one party (usually the defendant) is legally represented.
“These ill-advised proposals raise the serious spectre of bewildered injury victims who cannot find their way through the court system, and catastrophic delays to the court process.”