Simon Stanfield, the chairman of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS), has said that he fears that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has not learnt from “the errors” of the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act and that it will repeat its mistakes with upcoming reforms that will further reduce the rights of genuine claimants.
Speaking at the body’s annual conference on 10 October, Stanfield, who is also a partner and head of Road Traffic Accidents at Simpson Millar, warned the Government that it must not allow “one sided debate” and “misguided objectives” to influence the pending Civil Liability Bill. He said that these errors lead to the LASPO Act , which had caused significant detriment to ordinary claimants.
“I fear that the MoJ has not learnt from the errors of LASPO and indeed the launch of MedCo. Driven by one side in the debate, Part 2 of LASPO was misguided in its objectives, flawed in its rationale and poorly executed,” said Stanfield.
“The absence of the costs of success fees and ATE have benefited insurers at the expense of accident victims, from whose damages they are deducted.”
Although he accepted that rising insurance premium tax was playing its part in a “dramatic rise in premiums”, he reminded the insurance industry that prices had increased despite their promises that costs would drop if all the reforms they pushed for – and saw become reality under the LASPO Act – would be implemented.
“One thing is clear; it cannot be blamed on increased legal costs,” he said.
“After a brief drop, insurance premiums are right back to pre-LASPO levels and accident victims rarely benefit from the 10% uplift in damages.
“Third party capture remains unregulated and is still a significant problem. The related fundamental dishonesty change has led to many genuine claimants coming under unfair pressure to cease a legitimate claim ahead of going to court.
“Five years on and it looks as if the mistakes of the past are about to be repeated in the form of the Civil Liability Bill. Although the next few months and years will undoubtedly be testing for the sector, MASS will continue to actively campaign against the Government’s whiplash proposals in Parliament and elsewhere.”
Stanfield, who has just started his second term as MASS chairman, also questioned the need for further reform.
“The number of whiplash claims has continued to fall. The number of CMCs and the revenue they make from encouraging personal injury claims has fallen.
“Fraudulent behaviour – which never was at a level suggested by the newspaper headlines – appears to be on the wane, with many cash-for-crash gangs busted by the combined efforts of the various intelligence and investigative bodies.
“All of this begs the question, what are the current proposed changes to the claims environment really for?”
He did concede however, that problems continued to exist within the motor claims sector that needed addressing, pointing out that action on claims management companies had been painfully slow.
“The transfer of CMC regulation to the FCA and the prospect of tougher regulatory action against CMCs, is meeting resistance. We have yet to see the promised consultation on Part 2 of the changes, when abuse in medical reporting and rehabilitation costs need tackling. The Government continues to struggle with credit hire and with the technology in cars getting ever more sophisticated, there remain unanswered questions around credit repair and total loss claims.”