Justice minister Helen Grant acknowledged yesterday that the civil justice reforms will bring “some pain initially and uncertainty for a while”. But with change comes tremendous opportunity, she argued.
She praised those exploring alternative business structures – a concept she described as “wonderful” – for seeking to make the most of that opportunity.
Ms Grant also revealed that the government’s response to the whiplash consultation will not be published until the autumn.
Speaking in London, Ms Grant emphasised her 23 years of experience as a solicitor conducting family and civil litigation work, including both serious and straightforward road traffic claims, prior to her election in 2010.
Though she enjoyed the work “immensely”, she said: “During that time I also saw a huge increase in the number of claims, I saw a huge increase in the cost of dealing with those claims, I saw the growth of risk-free litigation and I also saw the worrying growth of the compensation culture…
“Meritorious claims will always be allowed but balance needs to be restored. We need to make sure we do everything we possibly can to protect claimants’ damages and we need to tackle the compensation culture. Ultimately we also want to see the insurance industry pass on the savings to consumers through much lower insurance premiums.”
Ms Grant said that underlying both the Jackson report and the government’s reforms this year was the principle that “access to justice for all depends on costs being proportionate and unnecessary cases being kept away from the courtroom”.
On whiplash, she said the government was “committed to tackling fraudulent and exaggerated whiplash claims whilst of course ensuring that those suffering genuine neck injuries get appropriate and sufficient compensation”.
She concluded: “Ultimately it will be the consumer who wins, with greater competition in the sector, transparent customer-orientated services and, very importantly, better value for money.
“Putting the consumer first is a worthy principle… But the legal sector is a very, very worthy profession and it too needs our support. I can tell you that I will never forget that.”
Responding the speech, Craig Budsworth, chairman of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, said: “We welcome today’s announcement that the government will be taking stock of proposals for further reform to the whiplash claims process and not make any decisions until the autumn. This will give Parliament the opportunity to give the proposal to raise the small claims limit to £5,000 the detailed scrutiny it deserves.”
The speech came on the day that the RTA portal fee fell from £1,200 to £500, in response to which justice secretary Chris Grayling said: “We are turning the tide on the compensation culture. It’s pushing up the cost of insurance, and making it more expensive to drive a car or organise an event. It’s time the whole system was rebalanced.”