A Bill has been passed without a great deal of fanfare, which will revolutionise the way people can claim redress through Scottish courts when they have been injured through no fault of their own.
The Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Scotland) Act may sound as dry as dust, but it will bring greater fairness to a system which has for years put a number of barriers in the way of injured people who need to claim compensation. In doing so, it will create the gold standard for funding personal injury claims - a standard which will leave the rest of the UK struggling to catch up.
In essence, the Act means that vulnerable people will be able to pursue compensation for genuine injuries without the fear of personal bankruptcy. Cases will be settled or negotiated on their merits, without worries about swingeing costs being awarded against injured pursuers. These worries currently result in genuine cases not being brought at all, or being settled for less than their true value because the financial risks of pursuing them are too high.
The root of the problem is that injured people have to cope with a system which is highly complex and alien to them. They are fighting for redress from those who have injured them, who are almost always bankrolled by insurance companies which are experienced in the cut and thrust of the court system. They are well resourced and know how to play the game.
By contrast, injured pursuers may be unable to work because of their injuries, or look after their children, or even dress or feed themselves. These people need to get their lives back on track and they are entitled to claim compensation from those who have injured them precisely for that purpose. They are severely disadvantaged by the current system, and are often terrified of losing what little they have left in their efforts to claim what is rightfully theirs.
This iniquity was recognised by the architect of this legislation, former Sheriff Principal James Taylor, who conducted an extensive and comprehensive review of the civil justice system. His aim was to introduce balance to what he has described as ‘in many cases…a true David and Goliath relationship.’
More than six years after he began his review, we now have legislation which provides a carefully interwoven package of reforms which will allow injured people to fund their cases properly, with certainty and clarity about the costs involved. At the same time, their lawyers will be paid fairly for their work, and safeguards have been put in place to protect defenders and their insurers from any misguided attempts to take advantage of the new system.
Sheriff Principal Taylor struck a fine balance in his review and it is right that the legislation we now have reflects that detailed and thorough work. When someone with experience and knowledge of the system commits to years of work to reform it, the outcome should be respected. In doing precisely that, Parliament has overturned years of unfairness.