Introducing a fixed tariff of general damages for whiplash injuries is the first key part of the Ministry of Justice’s whiplash programme, the second being a ban on pre-medical offers and the third a five-fold increase (from £1,000 to £5,000) in the small claims limit for motor injury cases. The first two are being taken forward in the Civil Liability Bill and the third will be implemented by changes to procedural rules.
An attempt by cross-bench peers yesterday to remove completely the idea of a tariff from the Bill was put to a vote. The amendment was defeated by only 13 votes, meaning that a tariff remains very much part of the Government’s reform programme.
A subsequent vote on a separate cross-bench amendment which also sought to dilute a different key element – by restricting the increase in the small claims limit to £1,500 – saw also that defeated, but by the rather more robust margin for the Government of 47 votes.
The suite of the Government’s own amendments which will set out the definition of whiplash injury in the Bill – and which provide powers for it to be amended by regulations following a formal review three years after implementation – was agreed. In making these changes, Ministers expressly acknowledged earlier criticisms from Peers and Committees that the definition should appear in the Bill in the first instance and should not be left to secondary regulations.
A notable feature of the process for the future review of the definition of whiplash –
“(a) a sprain, strain, tear, rupture or lesser damage of a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder, or
(b) an injury of soft tissue associated with a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder”
is that the Government’s amendments have included statutory consultees from the judicial, legal and medical sectors in the review. Similarly, but with regard to the damages tariff, the Government agreed yesterday to bring forward, at the Bill’s next stage, a further amendment requiring Ministers to consult judicial stakeholders before setting or amending the tariff.
The Bill’s final stage (third reading) in the Lords has yet to be scheduled, but it may well take place in the weeks before the summer recess on 24 July.
Summary by Alistair Kinley, Director of Policy & Regulatory affairs