In April 2019, the Government is likely to make substantial, unfair and illogical changes to the way that personal injury claims are pursued, to the detriment of ordinary people. As a Harrogate solicitor, specialising in personal injury law, these changes are an attack on one of the fundamental principles of any democracy: access to a lawyer.

What is the Government proposing?

The changes are quite complicated to explain, but I will do my best.

At the time of writing, anyone who suffers injuries in an accident which isn’t their fault, and has suffered injuries which last for around four weeks, will have a personal injury claim worth at least £1,000. £1,000 in a key sum, because it means that a personal injury solicitor is able to offer a No Win, No Fee agreement, because the solicitor is able to reclaim a small amount of legal costs for winning the claim. Currently solicitors do not offer No Win, No Fee agreements for claims worth under £1,000 for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.

What the Government is doing is to increase the £1,000 sum to £5,000 for road traffic-related accidents and up to £2,000 for non-road traffic accidents. Read that again: for road traffic accident claims, you will need to be 5 times more injured than you are today in order to get a lawyer to represent you, and for other non-road traffic accident injuries, double as injured as is the case today.

The vast majority of personal injury claims are caused in road traffic accidents. Therefore, it is likely that circa 800,000 people are unlikely to be able to get a personal injury solicitor to provide legal advice for their accident claim. This means that from April 2019 if an innocent person wants to claim compensation for injuries caused by someone else’s scandalous driving, then assuming that their injuries are worth less than £5,000, then they won’t have a lawyer and will have to deal with it themselves. Of course the insurers will know how to under-settle the claims and the insurers will still have access to their own lawyers! This is simply unfair.

But surely claims under £5000 are easy, right? Absolutely NO. No way at all. Personal injury law is complicated.

As I explained in my Ebook on personal injury compensation, determining legal liability and then calculating quantum – the value of a personal injury claims – is very complicated. Forgive me for using terms such as “liability” and “quantum”, but you’re going to have to get used to such terms!

In my office, my personal injury lawyers are brilliant at what they, and they have been working in the personal injury sector for decades (in total). Often, we have very different views – within our own law firm – as to how to deal with particular points in a personal injury claim. Law is rarely black and white. Most points are arguable; various shades of grey.

How will injured people instruct medical experts?

Without solicitors, I cannot imagine any independent medical expert accepting instructions from a non-lawyer to provide a medical report on their injuries. So how, in this new world order, will a medical report be obtained and, by whom? And will non-lawyers expect that their medical expert who they are paying, will provide a medical report in their interests, or in the interests of justice? A medical expert ought to be acting impartially, fulfilling an essential function in the legal process.

Recent independent research of medical experts already shows that medical experts are most reluctant to receive instructions from non-lawyers.

How will this impact the people of Harrogate and surrounding areas?

Many injured people simply will not have access to a lawyer. Therefore, I imagine that many injured, deserving people will not bring a claim, and those who do bring claims, are highly unlikely to be compensated properly for their injuries. Naturally, the interests of the insurance sector are the polar opposite of the interests of injured people.

Those who need to involve the courts in their personal injury claims, are likely to struggle and are likely to find the process stressful. Furthermore, the local court here in Harrogate is likely to get clogged up with claims which ordinarily would have settled without the involvement of the court. Lawyers play an essential role in the administration of law: solicitors are officers of the court after all.

And the fewer injury claims that are brought, the less the Government can reclaim from the insurance sector in terms of benefits paid to injured people and the cost of NHS care, all of which is currently reclaimed by the Government from the insurance companies. So, the taxpayer will lose out. It’s a lose-lose situation.

In terms of employment, personal injury law firms will struggle, may shed staff, non. And the suppliers to the personal injury law firms will struggle too.

Why is the Government making these unfair changes to access to justice?

Simply because the present Government is closely aligned to the interests of the insurance sector. The insurers moan that insurance premiums are too high, so the Government responds.

Recently Direct Line posted bumper profits. Did Direct Line opt for lower premiums or higher shareholder remuneration?

The Government seems to believe that we are living in a “compensation culture” and they are doing what they can to reduce access to lawyers. Having access to a lawyer is a sign of living in a mature democratic country, rather than something that we should be ashamed of.

Finally, I very much doubt that insurance premiums will fall for the people of Harrogate, but even if they do, the taxpayer will be worse off, so too will hundreds of thousands of innocent injured accident victims. These changes are retrograde and must be contested.

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Catherine Reynolds
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