2016 was a mixed year on many fronts. So Brexit and Trump
aside, how did the injured person fare?
It was a quiet year for decisions, and political instability
undoubtedly led to delay in expected consultations. The always ‘imminent’
consultation on clinical negligence fixed costs never materialised, ministers
in the Department of Health came and went as proposals were probably furiously
redrafted to shoe horn in with the small claims consultation, and then there
were Jackson’s musings on fixed costs.
The Autumn statement of 2015 had bought the spectre of
whiplash reform. They materialised a
year later, slightly watered down, but no less appetising with talk of
insultingly low tariffs replacing proper compensation at the levels agreed by
the judiciary – the lowlight being a paltry £25 for psychological trauma. Worse
nightmares were confirmed as the Government played on populist perceptions of a
so-called ‘compensation culture’ by labelling them ‘whiplash reforms’. In fact
they were a Trojan horse for sinister reforms across all low value injury claims,
whether for injuries at work, in public places, or for failures in hospitals.
These reforms are designed to discourage claims for genuine injury, stripping
claimants of their rights to both compensation and representation on the
fundamentally flawed promise of lower insurance premiums.
APIL exposed the insurance industry for not passing on the
much-promised savings from LASPO on the front page of The Times, creating doubt
as to whether lowering claims costs would ever translate into lower motor
insurance premiums. APIL’s Can the Spam! campaign, launched in June, promoted a
ban on cold calling as the best way to target fraud and reduce costs, while protecting
the genuinely injured claimant.
The latest Jackson proposals to introduce fixed costs into
cases worth up to £250k across all of personal injury taught us all a new word -
balkanisation - which, it appears, is a bad thing that must be avoided. Whilst
proposals are at an early stage, views are being sought and reports written
during the first half of 2017. There are serious concerns as to how fixed costs
could operate fairly in such complex and varied cases, with such robust
defendant behaviour. The ‘one size fits all’ approach of treating all areas of personal
injury law exactly the same from a costs perspective is raising the most
experienced of eyebrows.
In December, after years of significant pressure from APIL
the Lord Chancellor at last agreed to review the discount rate. Hoorah. The
news was a highlight for claimants and bad news for insurers. The ABI quickly
slapped down a judicial review of the decision before the ink was even dry. We
now await the Lord Chancellor’s decision, due by 31 January. The only correct
decision is that the rate is substantially reduced.
So if 2016 was all talk, what does 2017 hold? Decisions. May
they be the best, most informed decisions the Government can make, based on
evidence and justice, not spurious statistics twisted to suit the argument, or
myths peddled to justify a poor policy choice.