Despite feeling that the claimant personal injury market is under siege by those whose motives lie far from access to justice and protecting the vulnerable, we must not shy away from continuing to fight against damaging reforms, says Qamar Anwar of First4Lawyers
Most of us working in the claimant personal injury market will not have been surprised by the recent statement from the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) announcing that the government plans to press ahead and introduce whiplash reforms in April 2019. But this lack of surprise just really embodies the state of the industry’s mindset.
Despite lobbying and presentation of evidence, contrary to what the insurance industry provides, the government seems blind, deaf and dumb to the cries from our community.
It was this time last year we heard the news that the government planned to take an indiscriminate axe to the amount of compensation available to innocent road traffic accident victims. Three months of pain, suffering and inability to carry out everyday tasks was worth £225, according to the Ministry of Justice, a figure it appeared to have plucked out of the air. The average pay-out for such an injury, based on official guidelines, was £1,750.
Attempts to include these reforms in the Prisons and Courts Bill were disingenuous, and in its rush to respond to personal injury reforms, it was made clear that the government and insurance sector valued the damage caused to vehicles more than that to humans.
We were then granted a brief reprieve due to the snap general election, and we all hoped that this would give some pause for reflection and redirection. However, that hope was short lived as we all listened to the Queen’s Speech in June 2017 and discovered that the government planned to press ahead with personal injury reform in the guise of the new Civil Liability Bill.
By July, to add further insult to injury, responding to a written question about the government’s plans to change regulations covering insurance claims for whiplash, justice minister Sam Gyimah confirmed that a fixed tariff would apply to all compensation for whiplash claims for injuries lasting up to two years.
And now, the merry-go-round doesn’t stop as the clock is ticking on the introduction of the Civil Liability Bill. With no details of the bill yet published, the timetable is worryingly short, and suggests that a fresh, in-depth consultation with the industry is unlikely.
However, despite feeling that we are an industry under siege by those whose motives lie far from access to justice and protecting the vulnerable, we must not shy away from continuing to fight against these reforms and standing up for innocent injury victims’ access to justice.
It is imperative that the new justice secretary does not roll over and, once again, we call upon him to not take the insurance industry’s propaganda, which is fuelling these proposals, at face value.
Over the last few weeks, we have seen a flurry of announcements from insurers, with profit increases at some of the main players as high as 52%, and yet insurers report having to shrink their claims departments in response to falling claims and reduced fraud. The justice secretary must surely evaluate whether reform is actually needed. Reform should only be based on fact rather than the whim of the Association of British Insurers.
David Gauke must now instigate a meaningful and honest debate on what is right and wrong with the way personal injury victims are treated, to decry the way in which insurers operate, and the importance of the whole sector coming together to stamp out fraud.
Qamar Anwar is managing director at First4Lawyers