Qamar Anwar says that the next Government should deal with PI reform through a standalone bill
Claimant lawyers should not get the bunting out quite yet – we all know that if the Conservatives form the next Government after 8 June then there is every chance that the personal injury (PI) reforms contained in the Prisons & Courts Bill will be revived.
There are unknowns, of course. There is strong media speculation that Theresa May will look for a new justice secretary in her inevitable post-election reshuffle, and a new minister with different views and priorities may take the industry down a different road. If nothing else, the election is likely to delay the reform agenda.
But the direction of travel appears clear and so this time is better seen as a pause, rather than a conclusion. And that provides a real chance for all sides to take a breath, consider the war of words of recent months, and have a meaningful and honest debate about what is right and wrong in the industry. The emphasis to date has been on shoving from one side and resisting from the other without addressing the real problems.
I believe PI reform should form a standalone bill, and not be tagged onto other legislation that takes most of the attention. It should look in more depth at the entire claims industry and put as much scrutiny on insurers as it does on those making a claim. This will need time and objectivity – by which I really mean distance from insurer lobbying – because there needs to be more transparency in areas like credit hire, the cost of vehicle repairs and all the other elements of claims, not just the person who suffered an injury. The truth is that insurers are making a lot of money through these ancillary services.
In its rush to press on with the main reforms, the Government put those issues on the back-burner, but they are a huge part of the equation that shows up in insurers’ accounts.
Equally, the claimant sector needs to work together more proactively to prove they are taking a hard line against fraud and offering a value-added service to claimants.
The simplistic and misguided middle-ground has been to offer up claims management companies as the sacrificial lamb to the slaughter that will make all these problems go away. But CMCs that operate along clear, ethical lines cannot really be criticised for helping people with genuine claims seek access to justice, and indeed helping to weed out claims that should not proceed.
But it is clear that more needs to be done to root out the rotten apples, whether through regulators imposing tighter restrictions on cold calling and data purchasing, or through solicitors being more diligent about checking where their work is really coming from, rather than paying lip service to compliance. The Solicitors Regulation Authority needs to show more stomach for the fight too.
Let nobody take the moral high ground here. In the interests of having that more open, two-way debate – rather than the slanging match this debate often becomes – there needs to be a recognition that all sides can improve. The various suggestions for less damaging reform put forward by claimant groups indicate a willingness to take responsibility and look for ways to improve the system without making genuinely injured people suffer for a second time.
Crucially, the ABI and its members need to acknowledge that they are part of the problem, whether through funnelling claims through their alternative business structures, selling data to the claims industry, or a lack of transparency over those other ancillary claims costs.
Wouldn’t it be best if all sides could agree a way forward and lobby the new Government as one to make the claims process better and fairer for all?
Qamar Anwar is managing director of First4Lawyers