Civil Liability Bill to return to the House of Commons

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Opponents of the Civil Liability Bill have welcomed government concessions on compensation tariffs for victims of whiplash injury, but conceded that it’s now up to the House of Commons to vote down the controversial legislation.

The House of Lords voted against an amendment proposed by the influential Lord Woolf, the architect of the personal injury claims regime as it exists today, that would have removed tariffs for limiting damages from the Civil Liability Bill.

Government minister Lord Keen did say that the Civil Liability Bill would be amended at its next stage to allow consultation with the lord chief justice before the tariff is set.

Brett Dixon, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: “If the government is determined to introduce a tariff system, then the very least injured people have the right to expect is that the advice of the lord chief justice is sought. But this cannot just be a tick-box exercise. If advice is to be sought from the lord chief justice, then that advice must be followed.”

Qamar Anwar, managing director at First4Lawyers, commented: “We welcome the small steps the government has taken to improve legislation that Lord Woolf rightly described as ‘unjust’, but it is now down to the House of Commons to make the substantial changes it requires to ensure that innocent motorists and others injured due to the negligence of others do not suffer a second time when they bring a claim.”

“Given the recent report of the justice select committee, which condemned the planned rise in the small claims limit, the public has a right to expect MPs to protect them from reforms that will ultimately benefit insurers more than anyone.”

In response to 12 June’s debate in the House of Lords on the Civil Liability Bill, Deborah Newberry, head of public affairs at law firm Kennedys, said: “We are pleased that the government held firm on the principles behind the Civil Liability Bill. Doing so will assist compensators take proactive steps in adapting their claims handling models to accommodate the proposed measures.”

She added: “The concession offered by Lord Keen to allow for public scrutiny around the savings passed onto consumers by insurers should support a regime that ensures that genuine claimants receive fair compensation for their injuries. We understand the need to hold insurers to account. However, it is essential that the government does not consider that the bill, once passed into law, means claims reform is ‘job done’.”

The controversial Civil Liability Bill promises to cap damages for whiplash claims and ban settlements struck without medical evidence. Separate secondary legislation is also increasing the small claims limit for road traffic accident claims to £5,000 and for all other personal injury claims to £2,000.

The legislation will also move the calculation of the personal injury discount rate, currently set at -0.75%, away from ‘very low risk’ to ‘low risk’ investments, as well as introduce an expert group to advise on its level every three years.

Taken together, insurers and the government claim motor insurance policies will be £35 per year cheaper following passage of the whiplash reform package.

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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk