Parliament will sit again on 22 February 2016 after a short recess. It will then be exactly 90 days since the Autumn Statement of 25 November in which George Osborne announced reforms to restrict general damages in soft tissue injury claims and to increase the small track limit for injury claims to £5,000. In that period we have not seen the start of any formal consultation on either measure, although the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has conducted informal discussions with a range of stakeholders as it refines its thinking on the detail that will go to out to consultation.
The report of the Insurance Fraud Task Force was published last month, on 18 January. Its recommendations also touch on small claims and on general damages. Its recommendation 10, for example, proposes that claims notified more than six months after the accident might be dealt with in the small claims track and resurrects the idea of a system of predictable (general) damages for soft tissue injuries. Sir Rupert Jackson had – now more than six years ago – recommended “that a working group be set up to establish a uniform calibration for all software systems used in assessment of damages for PSLA up to £10,000.”
What might be the key dates in taking forward the Autumn Statement reforms? The first obvious date is 16 March, when the Chancellor presents his Budget. He might refer then to the reforms and to the Task Force’s ideas. He might also refer to the review of the regulation of claims management companies, which is due to report jointly to Treasury and the MoJ “in early 2016”.
The Easter break probably represents the next milestone, as we wait to see if the MoJ is able to start the consultation process before then. That, at the moment, looks unlikely.
Parliament is likely to rise before the week of 25 July and the summer recess looks to be an important milestone. If MoJ is thinking of concluding its consultation before the summer recess and if the consultation is to run for, say 10 or 12 weeks, that would suggest it would really need to start in the month or so following 11 April, the date on which Parliament returns after Easter.
Clearly, much of the above is speculative. But the Government appears politically committed to these reforms and we think an implementation date in the first half of 2017 remains realistic. That being the case, concluding the consultation before the summer looks very plausible. Doing that would enable Government to publish responses this autumn and thereafter to bring forward detailed proposals and provisions during the course of winter 2016/17. So perhaps the Autumn Statement 2016 will mark another milestone for the reforms announced in the 2015 Statement?
About the Author
Alistair Kinley is BLM’s Director of Policy & Government Affairs.
Alistair is responsible for BLM’s engagement with government departments and regulators on policy and public affairs issues and consultations affecting the firm and its customers. He coordinated BLM’s market-facing activities in connection with the Insurance Act 2015 and the consultations which preceded its publication and introduction in Parliament.
He is a member of the Civil Justice Council (CJC), a regular speaker and experienced commentator on legal and procedural reforms and was a contributing editor to the Law Society’s Litigation Funding Handbook (September 2014).