Some of the UK’s leading clinical negligence lawyers gathered at the Claims Conference on 1 March to hear about how Government policy, various commercial pressures, and the growing field of ADR could affect how they manage claims.
The delegates – made up predominantly of solicitors and barristers – attended the conference which was held at The Midland Hotel in Manchester and organised by Barker Brooks Communications, the publisher of Claims Media.
Bill Braithwaite QC from Exchange Chambers (pictured) chaired the conference. He was joined on stage by a number of distinguished speakers, including Nigel Poole QC from Kings Chambers, Frank Patterson from Irwin Mitchell, Amanda Stevens from Hudgell Solicitors, Ian Cohen from Slater and Gordon, Michael Redfern QC from St Johns Buildings, Tim Wallis (in his role as Chair of Trust Mediation) and Andrew Axon from Parklane Plowden.
In a keynote address, Nigel Poole QC warned the audience to keep one eye on the developments in the area of low value soft tissue injury claims. He suggested that the reforms to motor accident whiplash injury claims were a sign of the Government’s attitude to claims in general.
“The whiplash reforms don’t really affect the clin neg world, but perhaps they herald an approach that we should be aware of,” he said.
“The idea that you can pick on certain injuries of the body, suffered in certain places, such as a neck injury sustained in an RTA and impose a new set of damages by way of a tariff is wholly irrational and illogical.
“But we should be on notice that this is the sort of approach that is taken by Government for a problematic area of claim. You can see how the thinking goes.”
He also said that he could not see the discount rate remaining at its newly calculated level of –0.75% for very long.
On a more positive note, Poole said that there were strong rumours circulating that Lord Justice Jackson was open to the idea of exempting clinical negligence claims from any further extension of the fixed recoverable costs regime.
Some of the speakers also discussed the impact that the possible new £25,000 threshold for recoverable legal costs in clinical negligence cases would have on the claimant sector. Nina Ali, a partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, said that was worried about the future for sub-£25,000 claims.
“I see myself as a lawyer rather than a business manager but what I would say is that the 2013 reforms have led us to tighten up our screening and to be as efficient as possible,” she said.
“But I cannot see how any business model works with the new £25k regime will work with any business model. It would not be possible to deliver the service that we do now. And I struggle with the concept of delivering a lower level of service.”
Another speaker, Judith Thomas-Whittingham from Stephensons Solicitors, agreed with Ali, saying that Government’s proposals would make it harder to offer clients a “Rolls Royce” service.
“We have made many cuts and used IT to push efficiency. But our clients’ needs are going the other way,” she said.
Richard Baker, a barrister with 7BR, said that the proposed reforms were a massive concern in terms of access to justice.
“If solicitors won’t do these cases and then how can counsel?” he said.
The headline sponsor of the conference was Hayes Medicals . It was also supported by Eclipse Legal, Premex Services, Design for Independence, Hyphen Law, Forensic Healthcare, Abbey Legal, Allianz, reach, Medical Records, Financial and Legal, Spectra Legal, Blatchford, County Cost Consultants, Stokes Case Management, Speed Medical, Beechwood Solutions and Almond Case Management.