Justice secretary Chris Grayling yesterday confirmed that an increase in the small claims limit for personal injury (PI) claims to more than £5,000 is on the table.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has attacked him for what it described as a “petulant side-swipe at injured people”.
During justice questions in the House of Commons, Labour MP David Crausby asked whether the secretary of state was satisfied that raising the limit from £1,000 to £5,000 – which is currently the subject of consultation – “will ensure that accident victims continue to find adequate independent local advice and access to justice”.
Mr Grayling replied: “I think the new plans will do that. Indeed, I think there is a case for saying that the small claims court limit of £5,000 is too low. I am keen for people to have access to a proper legal process, but the benefit of the small claims court is, in part, arbitration. The plans make the process simpler and cleaner for people who have been through a difficult time.”
Last week an unsourced story in the Daily Telegraph  suggested that ministers were considering raising the limit to £15,000 in response to the judicial review of the proposal portal fee cut  issued by APIL and the Motor Accident Solicitors Society.
APIL president Karl Tonks attacked Mr Grayling’s comments. He said: “Any arbitrary increase in the small claims court limit for personal injury would just force injured people into a system which is fit only for settling disputes about faulty goods and services, not for dealing with complex matters of law.
“I find it hard to believe that a responsible government would react in such an irrational and indiscriminate way to a legitimate legal challenge, as suggested in press reports. A petulant side-swipe at injured people as punishment for an attempt to exercise the democratic right to scrutinise the government’s competence and motives would be a very sinister precedent indeed.”
Mr Grayling’s reply also appeared to rule out the ‘do nothing’ option present to consultees in the whiplash consultation. The consultation runs until 8 March and does not indicate a strong preference. The most it said was that “many small value whiplash claims are relatively straightforward and that the small claims track might be a more suitable venue in which to determine them than the fast-track”.
More generally Mr Grayling warned that, as a result of new Cabinet Office guidance, the Ministry of Justice will no longer automatically run 12-week written consultations.
He told MPs: “I want to be clear that although the government still want to hear the views of stakeholders and the public on many matters, they should no longer expect a 12-week consultation, even where that has been the practice in the past.
“Instead, in line with the new Cabinet Office principles, we will take a fresh look across all areas at whether, how and for how long we should consult, according to what is appropriate and proportionate in each case.”