Having reported on the discount rate legislation last month, the Justice Select Committee is now turning its attention lower value claims. It opened a short window during December to receive further comments on whiplash reform and the small claims limit and has just confirmed that it will take oral evidence on these topics on 16 January. The Committee also released the Ministry’s latest update on the proposed reforms.
The Justice Committee will hear from a range of stakeholders, including trade unions, FOIL, the judiciary and the Ministry of Justice, on 16 January 2018, some eleven months after its previous oral hearing in February 2017 and involving ABI and APIL.
The MoJ’s latest update released by the Committee on 10 January provides a useful – if brief – overview of relevant activity since the general election in June, as a result of which the whiplash elements of part 5 of the Prison and Courts Bill were lost. The Queen’s Speech after the election included a short passage about its replacement, the Civil Liability Bill, but no formal progress has been made to date and its provisions are not known (although the expectation is that they will be improvements on part 5 of the previous Bill).
The MoJ’s update to the Committee sets out the five areas of focus of its whiplash working groups, these being:
- overall strategic direction
- guidance and support (for users of the small claims court)
- legal issues (mainly procedural detail / rules)
- liability (procedure for settling disputes)
- IT (developing an IT platform for the new regime, accessible by business users and litigants in person)
It may be significant that two of these strands look to deal with how litigants in person – people dealing with their own claims themselves – will enter the new regime and secure support within it. This would seem to be a clear recognition of the ‘access to justice’ element of the debate on the small claims limit.
The MoJ update – which can be viewed here – is, as would be expected, carefully worded. Its penultimate sentence states that “Further announcements in relation to the introduction of the Civil Liability Bill will be made in due course.” This drafting neither gives a commitment that the Bill will definitely be introduced nor does the deliberately non-specific “in due course” (a classic Whitehall cliché?) commit the Ministry to any specific timetable.
Following the hearing on 16 January, it is likely that the Select Committee will publish its report within a few weeks and the Government’s response to that could, in its turn, emerge before Easter. It will be interesting to see if the Minister, Lord Keen QC, is prepared to provide any detail about the Government’s preferred timetable when he appears before the Committee next Tuesday morning.
Written by Alistair Kinley, director of policy and government affairs at BLM