Big promises on small claims?

David Lidington MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, appeared before the Commons Justice Select Committee earlier today (25 October) and re-confirmed that the Government intends to increase the small claims limit for personal injury claims to £5,000 for road traffic claims (whiplash injuries, in particular) and to £2,000 for other types of injury.

His intention was, inevitably, subject to qualifications. First, that he could not give a precise indication of the likely timing of the reforms and second that progress with legislation would be subject to the Parliamentary timetable. It hardly needs repeating that Brexit-related legislation is going to take precedence over the next 18 months. An example of that is that the line-by-line Committee stage proceedings of the key Bill – the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – has already been timetabled as requiring eight days’ debate (i.e. two full Parliamentary weeks) across the entire House of Commons.

But surely the small claims limit doesn’t need legislation? Indeed so, but related reforms in the Government’s package to tackle whiplash – a new, lower tariff for general damages and a ban on settlement without medical evidence – do and all these proposals are to be taken together in order to avoid the very real risk of ‘displacement’ if issues were to be tackled piecemeal. [‘Displacement’ being the euphemism of choice describing behaviours by which those presenting cases seek the most advantageous procedural and costs regimes possible.] As was made clear in June’s Queen’s Speech in June, the Civil Liability Bill – as yet unpublished – will be how things are taken forward. The new Bill will, in effect, replace part 5 of the Prison & Courts Bill which lapsed because of the general election.

The whiplash reforms first emerged two years ago in George Osborne’s Autumn Statement and survive, largely intact, despite some significant stalling due to the 2016 referendum and the 2017 election. Whether David Lidington’s indications today mean they will finally be implemented in 2018 or 2019 remains unclear..

We continue to monitor this topic closely and will post a link to the transcript of the Lord Chancellor’s remarks to the Select Committee as soon as this is made available.

About the Author

akAlistair 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).

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