Any further delay in announcing the way forward on whiplash reform – after the minister responsible left her post in this week’s reshuffle – risks financial instability in the legal market, the government has been warned.
The minister for civil justice, Helen Grant MP, was moved to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as part of David Cameron’s reshuffle, and has been replaced by Shailesh Vara MP. The Ministry of Justice has not yet announced whether he will assume her portfolio of responsibilities, but it seems likely that he will.
A decision on whiplash reform was expected shortly and Simon Gibson, managing partner of Liverpool claimant firm SGI Legal, said he was worried that the reshuffle will cause unnecessary and costly delays.
He said: “Both the legal and insurance sectors have been waiting for this decision, which has already been postponed, so they can move forward and ensure they are best placed to maintain sustainable business models as well as access to justice for those who have suffered genuine personal injury.
“Any further delay now will prejudice both law firms and insurers and, in an already challenging sector, mean budgeting and business planning cannot be dealt with properly with such a degree of uncertainty.”
In May Ms Grant announced a delay to the Ministry of Justice’s planned response to the whiplash consultation so that it could take into account the outcome of the transport select committee’s whiplash investigation. The committee reported in late July; while MPs supported the creation of independent medical panels, they opposed the government’s proposal that the small claims limit for personal injury claims be increased from £1,000 to £5,000.
Mr Gibson said a decision was needed: “Whilst law firms may gain short-term comfort from a delay, ultimately prolonged uncertainty will increase rather than reduce financial instability in the legal sector. I hope that the ministry will follow the evidence and common sense conclusions put forward by the select committee and publish its decision this autumn as planned, notwithstanding the reshuffle. Any further delay helps nobody at all.”