Whiplash reforms stall until end of the summer
The lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice Robert Buckland has today (27 February) confirmed that roll out of the government’s whiplash reform programme will be delayed until August.
In a ministerial statement, Buckland confirmed that given the work that still needs doing and having “listened to the arguments made by both claimant and insurance representative bodies” it would not be practical to launch in April as originally planned.
The announcement follows a speech by the deputy director of civil justice David Parkin in late January casting doubt on the tabled timeline.
Buckland’s statement said: “The government remains firmly committed to implementing measures to tackle the high number and cost of whiplash claims”.
However, it added: “We have always been clear that we need to do this right rather than hastily. In particular, we need to provide sufficient time to work with the Civil Procedure Rules Committee to put in place the supporting rules and pre-action protocol and to give industry sufficient time to prepare their businesses for the changes to how small road traffic personal injury claims are managed. We will also lay the statutory instrument in parliament to introduce the tariff of damages for whiplash injuries.”
As such he confirmed implementation of the reforms would move to 1 August 2020.
The reform programme includes the introduction of a fixed tariff on damages that a court can award for pain, suffering and loss of amenity for whiplash injuries sustained in a road traffic accident, as well as a ban on the making or accepting of offers to settle a whiplash claim without a medical report. Alongside these, the small claims track limit for road traffic related claims has been increased to £5,000.
The delay has been long anticipated by personal injury lawyers. First4Lawyers managing director Qamar Anwar dubbed the move “inevitable” and accused the Ministry of Justice of “dragging its feet” on making the decisions required for an April launch date.
“What is important now is that the extra time granted by the delay isn’t wasted. The onus is on the Ministry of Justice to ensure all the new rules are published without further delay, and all the outstanding issues with the claims process are settled, to allow businesses on all sides the proper time to prepare”, he added.
“We 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.”
Association of Personal Injury Lawyers president Gordon Dalyell said the government’s plans still failed to find suitable solutions to more complex claims.
“Failure to include an effective and fair way of resolving conflict in the new portal pits the inexperienced individual against the seasoned insurer without a safety net, hoping everything will go without a hitch”, he said.
“It assumes that the injured person will simply accept without question what the insurer says has happened, who is a fault, and how much compensation is fair. Or, if the injured person refuses to accept what he’s told, it is assumed he will be able to take his case to the small claims court. This means paying a fee upfront and facing down the lawyers of the person who has injured him, probably without being able to afford a lawyer of his own to help navigate a court system which is simply not designed to deal with these complex issues”.
The Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) has said it will “stand alongside the Ministry of Justice to support their August delivery date”.
In a statement responding to the amended timeline, the MIB added: “The additional time will allow the CPRC to complete its work and provided we have their decisions by early May, and the changes are not too far away from what we’ve built to date, we are comfortable we will be ready for the new launch date”.