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'Now's not the time' to press ahead with online PI reforms

'Now's not the time' to press ahead with online PI reforms

The government has again delayed its online whiplash reforms – just as the rest of the world quickly adapts to functioning online

The government has again delayed its online whiplash reforms – just as the rest of the world quickly adapts to functioning online amid the pandemic. 

The Justice Secretary Robert Buckland’s announcement that the Civil Liability Act will not now come into force until at least April 2021 has been greeted by lawyers with scepticism. 

Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) president Gordon Dalyell welcomed the announcement but commented: “Another arbitrary date for these reforms to be implemented is meaningless unless critical issues are addressed.” 

In a statement to parliament, the Justice Secretary said: “The government remains firmly committed to implementing these measures which are intended to control the number and cost of whiplash claims.”

When the reforms finally come into force, the small claims track limit for road traffic accident related personal injury claims will go up to £5,000; and a fixed tariff of damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity for whiplash injuries will be introduced.

There will also be a ban on making or accepting offers to settle a whiplash claim without an expert medical report.

The Justice Secretary said: “It is apparent that the current Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the medical, legal and insurance sectors. 

“As a result, the government has considered representations from key stakeholder groups and agrees that now is not the time to press ahead with significant transformational change to the personal injury sector.”

Government will, he added, continue to “monitor developments” in relation to the pandemic and will, if necessary, make further announcements around implementation of the reforms.

Could further delay make revisions to the proposed reforms more likely? 

Dalywell said the new claims portal lacks “vital safeguards” to ensure injured people can gain access to justice. 

He commented: “This is now the third time the deadline has been moved and we are still to see any real progress on these issues.

“The priority must now be on finding workable solutions which will leave injured people with some hope of justice.”

“There is a certain irony in the government delaying an online system when everything else in the world seems to be going online”, said Qamar Anwar, managing director of First4Lawyers.

But he called the announcement “inevitable”, saying the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has “dragged its feet” in making the decisions needed to meet this April’s implementation date.

“When these reforms come back”, he added, “the MoJ needs to ensure that new rules are published, and all the outstanding issues with the claims process are settled to allow businesses on all sides the proper time to prepare. 

“When the time is right, we will also need reassurance that plans have been laid for a much needed public information campaign – these reforms are bad enough for injured people without them being left clueless on the changes and how even to access the process.”

The Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL) has been directly involved with the reform process. 

Its president Anthony Baker, a partner at Plexus, said: “The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the insurance, legal, judicial and medico-legal sector and everyone’s priorities must lie in elsewhere in getting through this turbulent period.”

He added: “The delay will allow more time for the outstanding required work by the Civil Procedure Rules Committee and Motor Insurance Bureau to be completed and for insurers and representatives to fully prepare operationally for the reforms within the official injury portal.”

Describe the situation as “sensible”, chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) Paul Nicholls said: “With everyone struggling with bigger issues right now, this delay will hopefully provide time, when it is appropriate, for a proper debate on the many outstanding issues yet to be resolved."

Paul Nicholls has written an article on the continuing concerns around the reforms and Solicitors Journal subscribers can read it here

SJ wishes Paul a quick recovery from his battle with Covid-19 for which he was hospitalised.

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