The Department of Health (DoH) is planning a “rushed” pre-Christmas consultation on fixed fees, medical negligence lawyers have warned.
Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp, vice-chair of the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers (SCIL), said she was concerned the consultation would be run for only six weeks between mid-November and the end of the year.
The warning comes as the DoH “pre-consultation” on the issue, which proposes to introduce fixed fees for cases worth up to £250,000, ends today.
“We are concerned the consultation will be rushed through at the end of the year,” Ms Rhodes-Kemp said. “It would effectively only last for a month because so many people are away. It would be like holding the pre-consultation in August, when people are on holiday.
“It is all premature, because, as far as we can make out, nobody has any data on the impact of the Jackson reforms. The relatively small number of post-Jackson cases that have settled have shown huge reductions in fees and premiums.”
Ms Rhodes-Kemp, head of clinical negligence and personal injury at the London office of Hudgell Solicitors, said SCIL had taken part in a number of pre-consultation meetings with the Department of Health, the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) and Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
She said SCIL had not yet decided whether to seek a QC’s opinion on whether the fee cuts were a breach of theright to a fair trial under article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Neither the Department of Health nor the Ministry of Justice seem to see lack of access to justice as an issue,” she said. “Nor is it clear why fixed costs should be set at up to £25,000 for other personal injury cases, and up to £250,000 for medical negligence.
“An injury valued at £250,000 is permanent and life-threatening. If the regime comes in as proposed, it will be unlikely if any [after-the-event] insurers can remain in the market and law firms will be able to do the work.”
Ms Rhodes-Kemp said she was also concerned by Ministry of Justice (MoJ) plans to limit recoverability of ATE premiums in medical negligence cases, and said it was not clear whether there was any “liaison” between the two government departments on the issue.
She added that SCIL would consider all its options, including an article 6 challenge, at a meeting in Birmingham on 16 September.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the department’s position remained that it would launch a consultation in the autumn.