With the Civil Liability Bill, the government is essentially trivialising what can be a serious injury with long-lasting consequences, says Qamar Anwar of First4Lawyers
After an interminable wait, the recent announcement from the justice secretary, David Gauke, about a crackdown on so-called fraudulent whiplash claims with the Civil Liability Bill is the ultimate ill-advised move, in a game that has lasted for far too long.
As far back as I can remember, insurers have been successfully hoodwinking the government into believing that all victims of road traffic accidents are frauds, all claims management companies cold-call and lawyers actually chase ambulances.
In December 2016, for example, publication of the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) consultation, Reforming the Soft Tissue Injury (‘whiplash’) Claims Process, falsely predicted a £40 saving on insurance premiums for consumers, despite there being no way of monitoring and enforcing it. Worse still was the revelation in the impact assessment accompanying the consultation that even the MoJ didn’t expect insurers to pass on all the savings.
We’ve now been told the saving will be £35 per year per motorist, with the insurance industry promising to pass cost savings from whiplash and discount rate reform on to customers. In a carefully and seemingly perfectly-timed letter coordinated by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), no fewer than 26 motor and liability insurers claimed to have already passed on more than £1.2 billion of savings from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders reforms in 2013 in the form of lower premiums. I’m pretty sure policyholders haven’t experienced such a windfall and you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t hold my breath for the £35 saving.
With this bill, the government is essentially trivialising what can be a serious injury with long-lasting consequences, highlighted by Gauke’s comments, made in his announcement about the bill: “The number of whiplash claims has been too high for too long, and is symptomatic of a wider compensation culture.”
Unscrupulous people will always look for loopholes but scams like ‘crash for cash’ need to be tackled at source, not by penalising innocent victims. It beggars belief that the government has not been willing to tackle what is essentially organised fraud, but has instead set its sights on the injured and vulnerable.
It’s extremely disappointing, although somewhat predictable, that the new Justice Secretary has followed in the path of his predecessors by rolling over and taking the insurance industry’s propaganda, which is fuelling this bill, at face value. Coming at a time when insurers report having to shrink their claims departments in response to falling claims and reduced fraud, the justice secretary cannot have satisfied himself that reform is actually needed.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—reform should only be based on fact rather than on the whim of the ABI. Further, the promise that the bill will offer hope of lower insurance premiums to millions of motorists is a fallacy.
The bill is now passing through the House of Lords, with the second reading, a general debate on all aspects of the bill, taking place yesterday.
At First4Lawyers, we are redoubling our lobbying efforts over the coming weeks and months to ensure parliamentarians hear the voices of claimants over and above the insurance lobby. I urge everyone working with and on behalf of injured accident victims everywhere to do the same.