The role which before-the-event (BTE) legal expenses insurance might play in improving access to justice is to be examined by a working group set up by the Civil Justice Council.
BTE is set to become more prominent in the wake of the government’s proposed personal injury reforms, with one leading insurer this week predicting an increase in both demand and premiums as a result.
The CJC working group is the product of a wider civil litigation review committee created by the CJC last year to consider a series of discrete topics relating to civil litigation and, in particular, issues relating to the funding of claims and of furthering the CPR’s overriding objective of enabling the court to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost.
The chair of the BTE working group is Professor Rachael Mulheron of Queen Mary University of London, with Maura McIntosh, commercial litigation specialist at City giant Herbert Smith Freehills the vice-chair – they hold the same roles in the main committee.
Members of the BTE group are:
- Lesley Attu, product development manager, ARAG;
- Steven Beahan, commercial litigation partner, Irwin Mitchell;
- Michael Hall, Aviva, ABI;
- Peter Holland, head of legal expenses, DWF Law
- Richard Miller, head of justice, Law Society
- Rocco Pirozzolo, underwriting director, Harbour Legal Costs Cover;
- Rebecca Scott, Citizen’s Advice, and a CJC member;
- Dr John Sorabji, principal legal adviser to the Master of the Rolls, and member of the UCL Judicial Institute; and
- Matthew Williams, head of AmTrust Law, AmTrust Europe.
Robert Wright, the Ministry of Justice’s head of policy for civil litigation funding and costs, and access to justice, will be an observer to the group.
Meanwhile, James Henderson, managing director for insurance in both the UK and Ireland at DAS, said he was concerned that the government’s plan to raise the small claims limit for road traffic cases to £5,000 “may pass too great a burden onto legitimately injured claimants”.
He said: Almost no detail has been given as to whether there will be reforms to how victims access compensation.”
Pointing out how difficult it could be for claimants to pursue a case, and establish liability, causation and quantum, without legal representation, he continued: “I have no doubt that legal expenses insurance will play a crucial role in mitigating any negative effects of these reforms.
“Legal fees are likely to deter many legitimate claimants; knowing that they have access to expert help and that their legal fees are covered by their motor legal expenses insurance policy will be of considerable comfort.”
But he warned that for insurers to offer the current level of service to customers, “they may have to increase premiums of the legal expenses cover as the cost of legal action for lower value claims will no longer be recoverable from the at fault party”.