As you may know the Civil Liability Bill has three parts:
- Deals with whiplash
- Deals with the personal injury discount rate
- Sets out the final provisions and deals with regulations, extent, commencement and short title.
Under the Conservative government our rights – hard won by trade unions and justice campaigners – have been rolled back time and time again, creating a two-tier justice system. Cuts have also undermined access to justice leaving many working people priced out of being able to defend their legal rights.
Labour has had serious concerns about this Bill and voted against its damaging provisions all the way through the process.
We put forward a series of amendments that would have removed the most unjust parts of the Bill and radically changed the rest. These were narrowly defeated.
The government claimed that this Bill is intended to reduce fraudulent whiplash claims. This is a smokescreen, the Bill is about lining the pockets of insurance companies at the expense of working people.
The Government’s plans do not provide a fair settlement for victims of road traffic accidents and would substantially reduce their compensation by punishing claimants with a one-size-fits-all approach. Such an approach is an assault on the rights of victims. Pre-eminent and legal experts have warned that penalising the innocent in this way goes against the principles of our justice system. For example, someone suffering a whiplash injury lasting 10-12 months would get £1,250 under the government’s proposals, which is down from an average of £3,100 currently.
Given the Tories’ track record on unlawful Employment Tribunal Fees and Legal Aid cuts there are serious concerns that victims will be left unable to enforce their hard-won legal rights. Despite promises, the Conservatives still haven’t introduced robust mechanisms to force insurance companies to pass on any savings to consumers.
This Bill is part of a package of legislative changes to civil liability which will leave tens of thousands of people unable to properly defend their rights. The Conservatives are trying to avoid full and appropriate parliamentary scrutiny by bringing some of the most damaging elements of these changes by Statutory Instrument.
The government is seeking to double the lower limit for recovering costs in Personal Injury cases from £1,000 to £2,000 (and from £1,000 to £5,000 in road traffic accident cases). As a result, many more claims will be dealt with through what is known as the Small Claims Track. In such cases, even if a claim is successful, no legal costs are awarded. This will leave tens of thousands of working people without access to free legal help. Many will have to represent themselves, even where the insurers fighting against them still have lawyers of their own. Others will not be able to pursue their cases at all.
It’s not only Labour that opposes these measure, the Justice Select Committee said “increasing the small claims limit for personal injury creates significant access to justice concerns”.
Labour has repeatedly called for the Government to drop these plans however, we lost the votes in the House and as you may know this Bill has passed its third reading and is now proceeding to Royal Assent. While this is not what you or I wanted, I can assure you that we will continue to press the Government at every available opportunity to reduce the impact on victims.