The battle against whiplash reform isn’t over until the fat lady sings, says Qamar Anwar of First4Lawyers
With the government still in disarray over Brexit, and with seemingly no end in sight, it was on the evening of 16 July that the Ministry of Justice chose to publish its response to the Justice Select Committee on the small claims limit.
The response? Another disappointment. I would like to say that there have been many twists and turns that have brought us to where we are today, but the reality is that the government has been surprisingly focused on this issue. From the outset, the government has taken a single-minded, some may say blinkered, approach. Despite pleas from the industry, campaigning groups and lawyers, the government hasn’t wavered or faltered.
The process has felt farcical for some time now.
While we fully welcome extensive user testing to what is going be a fundamental change to how whiplash claims are handled, we cannot ignore the language of the response, which very much suggests the proposed reforms are now considered by the government to be a done deal.
The government can throw out statements such as wishing to “ensure that the system is easy to use for all user groups and that the guidance is clear”, and that it is “crucial that these reforms and the implementation of the online platform is done right rather than quickly”. However, if the government truly stood behind statements such as this, we wouldn’t be where we are now.
A system that is easy to use for all groups would look at the most vulnerable, and ensure they had adequate protection that includes suitable legal representation. Implementation that is done right would not involve raising the small claims limit, against all advice, to £5,000.
It is hard to believe that, after the summer recess, there will be any meaningful debate held in the House of Commons.
The government can say it is “acutely aware that the proposed approach will fundamentally transform how whiplash claims are handled and that any concerns around access to justice have to be addressed promptly” to soothe ministers’ consciences, but the government continually and wilfully ignoring the evidence about whiplash claims, which will have dire consequences for innocent injury victims.
However, it’s not over until the fat lady sings, as they say—a performance that is now scheduled for 2020. The upside to the delay is that it has also bought us time, to continue to urge MPs to listen, to collect and present irrefutable data, to raise our voices to be louder and more insistent than those of the insurance industry. We stand firm by what we believe, and in playing our part to protect those with no voice who will undoubtedly be affected. We urge you to join us in doing the same.