The House of Commons Justice Committee have delivered a report raising a number of concerns about the Government’s plans to increase the personal injury (PI) small claims limit to £5,000.00 and has recommended instead that the limit be increased only to £1,500.00 to reflect increases in inflation. The primary concern of the committee appears to be one of access to justice and the difficulties unrepresented litigants may face. The Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill, made the following statement:
“Access to justice, including the right of access to the courts, is a cornerstone of the rule of law but these reforms risk putting that right in doubt. We share strong concerns that were raised during our inquiry on this issue, including concerns about the financial and procedural barriers that claimants might face. The Ministry of Justice has made some welcome moves to develop the electronic platform to compensate for claimants' anticipated lack of legal representation. However, we remain to be convinced that this will be effective or sufficient. This is a vitally important point of principle on which the Government should reflect. The small claims limit for personal injury should not be increased unless Ministers can explain how it will make sure that access to justice is not affected."
Although examination of the Civil Liability Bill was not part of the report’s remit, some of the concerns raised by the Committee go to the root of the planned reforms and may give an indication of some of the objections the Civil Liability Bill will have to overcome before it becomes law. These include:
·They were troubled by the absence of reliable data on insurance fraud and recommended that the Government work with the Association of British Insurers to develop a more nuanced approach that avoids conflating unexpected consumer behaviour with fraudulent activity;
·They were unconvinced that the platform for making claims could overcome the inequality of arms between unrepresented litigants and represented insurers;
·They regretted that the Ministry of Justice did not consider it relevant at the consultation stage to estimate the potentially substantial impact of its proposals on the PI legal sector, and it was unclear to them why its final stage Impact Assessment assumed that the sector will be able to replace PI work with work of equivalent value; and
·They recommended that before any further changes were made to the PI sector the Ministry of Justice consider learning from its post-legislative review of Part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.