1 March 2013
High Court rejects portal fee cut judicial review
RCJ: no obligation on government to seek opposite views
The High Court today dismissed the judicial review brought against the government’s decision to cut RTA portal fees.
Lord Justice Elias said the government made the decision to cut the fees in 2011, and not – as contended by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) and Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) – as a result of the Prime Minister’s insurance summit held on 14 February 2012 to which no claimant representatives were invited.
APIL and MASS said this amounted to an unfair consultation. They were supported by interventions from the Law Society, Unite the Union, and trade union law firm Thompsons. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) intervened on the government’s side.
Sitting with Mr Justice Cranston, Elias LJ told a packed court 1 at the Royal Courts of Justice that the summit was about securing agreement from insurers to reduce premiums as a result of the fee cut. It was “wholly unrealistic” to say the decision was taken as a result of the meeting with the insurance industry, the judge said – the government knew insurers’ views without having to meet them.
He also emphasised that government had to be free to seek information from whichever parties it wanted without having to speak to those with an opposite view. Otherwise, “the process of government would grind to a halt”.
This was, he added, not unfair; instead it was “practical governance” and if the government was deaf to a particular group, that was “a matter for the ballot box, not the court”.
Although he had already rejected the case on the merits, Elias LJ went on to say that, in any event, the judicial review was brought too late. To the suggestion from the ABI that the timing was a deliberate ploy to delay the introduction of the new fees, he said: “I wouldn’t be willing to draw that serious inference.”
Further, even if the case had succeeded, in the “very unusual circumstances” where there had been the subsequent consultation on the level of portal fees, it would be “unreal” to say that having a new consultation would change the secretary of state’s mind, he said.
If the Law Society had failed to persuade the Ministry of Justice that the proposed fee levels were wrong, it would be “fanciful” to suggest it could then persuade the government that the decision to cut fees was wrong in principle.
Mr Justice Cranston agreed, saying that neither the summit nor various e-mails exchanged between government and insurers beforehand – in particular one from the Cabinet Office to Zurich – amounted to consultation. He said APIL and MASS were essentially arguing that as a matter of law they should have been at the summit, which he described as a “bold and startling submission”.
It must be a matter for the government to decide what information it needs, to whom it talks and with whom it bargains, he insisted.
The government was granted its costs but despite arguing for its costs, the ABI was not given them.
- The original version of this story reported that the High Court had granted leave to appeal. This was incorrect. We apologise for the error.