The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has led claimant condemnation of the Ministry of Justice’s proposed fee levels for portal and fast-track personal injury claims.
President Karl Tonks said: “We’re appalled by these proposals, which are wholly damaging to the interests of injured people.
“A fee of £1,600 for an employers’ liability case valued up to £25,000 is not at all reflective of the work involved and serves to cut independent legal advice from the system.
“Alternatively, injured people will have to pay for legal advice out of the compensation that they need. Consultation on how the new employers’ liability and public liability systems will operate is still underway and cases have not been openly costed, so how these fees could have been fairly calculated is a mystery.
“The government must listen to reason if these reforms are to be in any way workable and just for injured people.
Motor Accident Solicitors Society chairman Craig Budsworth said the existing costs were agreed between claimants and insurers based on the amount of work required to undertake the case. “The costs never had a referral fee element factored into them,” he emphasised.
A Law Society spokesman said there was “cause for concern”. He explained: “A detailed analysis of these proposals is needed, but at first glance the proposed fixed costs appear to be woefully inadequate and the likely result will be that many solicitors will not be able to afford to carry on doing this type of work.
“There is a danger that if our members are forced to stop this type of work it will have a detrimental impact on access to justice for accident victims. Once we have looked at the plans in more detail the Law Society will raise these concerns, and any others, in our response.”
However, Tracy Head, a partner at leading defendant law firm Kennedys, said: “The proposed levels of fixed recoverable costs under the Portal appear sensible. A level of costs is required which reflects the genuine amount of work that is required in managing a personal injury claim. We believe the suggested amounts achieve that aim.
“It is vital that the amounts of fixed recoverable costs reflect the true operating costs of efficient claimant law firms. The current stage 1 fee, in particular, is disproportionate to the costs of a Claimant law firm taking a new claim to the stage 1 notification point. This part of the process is largely administrative based and the proposed reduction appears to recognise that.”
She said it was “logical” to deal with fixed costs outside the portal as well so there is no incentive to choose one claims process vehicle over another. “However, we fear the ‘Jackson matrix’ appears unduly complicated. Creating and maintaining a simple fixed fee structure is key to successful management of personal injury claims and avoiding costs disputes.”
Meanwhile, APIL has issued a letter before action to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) with a view to launching a judicial review in relation to extension of the RTA claims process, and particularly the lack of consultation and the manner in which the fees are being set.
APIL chief executive Deborah Evans said: “APIL has said from the outset that we do not object in principle to the introduction of changes which speed up and improve the civil justice system for the benefit of all parties. Our concern in this instance, however, is that proper consideration of key issues is being sacrificed in favour of an impractical ambition to introduce extensions to the RTA portal by next April.
“We are extremely concerned that the mechanisms which will make the portal extensions work efficiently cannot be put in place in time. Concerns expressed by Professor Fenn about the RTA portal, for example, have not been fully addressed. We have made representations to the Ministry of Justice about these issues but the responses we have received mean that, regrettably, we have little choice but to take the matter further.”
The MoJ has until 23 November to respond.