On Tuesday 21 April 2020, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the UK Government announced that it has decided to delay the implementation of the whiplash reform programme until April 2021.
Why Have The Reforms Been Delayed?
The Government said that it remains firmly committed to implementing these measures which are intended to control the number and cost of whiplash claims. But while the whiplash reform measures remain important, they are focussing on acting to ease the disruption and pressures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
This is positive and sensible news for the legal sector given the current circumstances.
When first announced, all those involved were given enough time to have the rules and a further three months to prepare.
But as it currently stands, there are no rules in place and the initial three months to prepare was based on a non-pandemic, non-self-isolating, non-social distancing and non-working from home three months.
What Are The Drivers For The Reforms?
While the delay is welcomed, whenever it does come in, what are the drivers for the reforms and why will so many claimant lawyers remain concerned?
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says the two main reasons for the reforms are: to reduce un-meritorious claims and to reduce fraud. And not to forget the overarching principle – that the claimant is at the heart of the journey.
The current system has claimant lawyers deciding if a claim has merit. The new system is being specifically built on the basis that there will be more litigants in person. So, less claimant lawyer involvement, more claims management company input and more litigants in person deciding the merit of their own claim. All of which combined, in my view to more, not fewer, un-meritorious claims.
In short, the main aims set by The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) are unlikely to be achieved, even with the newly pushed back implementation date.
The new system is not a silver bullet point and fraud will likely continue or merely move to another venue and there is every chance fraud will increase.
The new Official Injury Claim (OIC) portal is impressive and the Motor Insurers’ Bureau have always said that they are building it based on what they think the rules will be, and if they are wrong, reworking will take place.
But Is The OIC Equal To Or Better Than Having A Lawyer?
Litigants in person were originally compensated on the loss of a lawyer, by having access to non-binding alternative dispute resolution on liability and quantum. Both of which have been abandoned in the latest update from the MoJ.
The latest version of the process appears to give the litigants in person the ability to leave the OIC and issue in the small claims track for a liability-only hearing. Once this is resolved, they go back to the OIC to agree quantum. If this is not resolved, they will go back to the small claims court for quantum-only hearing.
So potentially two visits to the OIC and two court visits for resolution.
If I were a litigant in person, this would not make me feel as though I was at the heart of the journey. I would feel that I had to do more myself (after suffering a genuine injury that in many cases can be life-changing) and wait longer to get less than I currently do.
As for the two main aims of the reforms, time will tell if they have been achieved. But for now, as a claimant solicitor and for those who suffer as a result of a road traffic accident, things will continue as they are and people will get solicitor help rather than having to go it alone.
About The Author
David is an expert in personal injury law, whiplash reforms, access to justice, claimant rights and flight delay law in the UK. He regularly lectures on business management and the changes in the law and the protocols.
His vast experience in the industry saw him get elected to the Executive Committee of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) in April 2006. He continues to sit on the committee and he served as its President for a year (April 2011 – April 2012).
Having been extensively involved in the MOJ streamline process, David sits on the “Portal Co” and “MedCo” boards, as the APIL representative. He was elected to the Executive Committee of the Legal Management Section of the Law Society in April 2006 and sat on the Committee until 2012. During that time he served as Vice Chairman for two years.
In November 2017, David was invited to sit on the Ministry of Justice Information Technology Committee. David is now heavily involved in the reforms process, attending monthly meetings to discuss the IT implications of the proposed whiplash reforms.
He regularly speaks at conferences and has appeared on BBC1 (The One Show, Watchdog, Rip-Off Britain, North West Tonight), Radio 4 (Moneybox), Radio 5 and local Radio.