After months of little, or indeed, no news about the Government’s personal injury reform agenda, 2018 kicks off with a potentially interesting and important encounter. Next Tuesday (16 January) the Commons’ Justice Select Committee will hold an oral evidence session on the Government’s proposal to raise the personal injury Small Claims limit to £5,000.
Lord Keen of Elie, one of only two members of the Justice team to retain their position after the recent ministerial reshuffle, is amongst a range of witnesses who will face Bob Neill’s Justice Committee. This is the first, and probably the only time, that a Government Minister will be questioned, in detail, on the Government’s proposal to raise the Small Claims Limit, given that it can be implemented via secondary legislation, with minimal scrutiny, rather than primary legislation.
It is vitally important that the Committee robustly cross-examine Lord Keen on the evidence base and rationale for this proposal. The £5,000 figure appears entirely arbitrary and is substantially higher than the increase in line with inflation that was recommended by Lord Justice Jackson. It cannot be right to cherry-pick the elements of the Jackson reforms that dovetail with current political prejudices, whilst ignoring his other recommendations. Whether you agree with Jackson or not, they were always meant as a package, to provide a set of checks and balances.
Instead, the proposal to raise the SCL is deeply flawed, will unfairly penalise injured accident victims and will only serve to de-regulate the market to the benefit of CMCs, when the Government is supposedly trying to regulate it more closely.
The Justice Committee would do well to look back at the conclusions of its sister committee, the Transport Committee in 2013. It warned that safeguards needed to be in place to protect genuine claims before it was increased. With the proposed reforms threatening to expose greater numbers of claimants, as Litigants in Person, to the risk of greater abuse at the hands of unscrupulous claims farmers, it is painfully clear that no safeguards have been put into place.
In seeking to create a system where professional legal representation is priced out of much of the market, raising the small claims limit could lead to a proliferation of a new generation of ‘friends’ for LIPs, with a vested interest in maximising the value of the claim and encouraging negative behaviour, this ‘support’ will be unqualified, uninsured and unregulated.
Appearing before Lord Keen, will be an insurer, a trade unionist, two defendant lawyers and two senior members of the judiciary. On such a crucial issue, it is deeply disappointing that there is not a single claimant solicitor or representative. Select Committees can have a real impact on holding governments to account on misguided policies. It is time for the Justice Committee to prove its mettle.