The High Court’s rejection of the challenge to the RTA portal fee cut represents “a dark day” for accident victims, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has claimed.
In a statement APIL – which brought the judicial review together with the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) – said: “Many vulnerable victims of injury will now find it impossible to obtain independent legal representation as a result of the bitterly disappointing judgment in the Administrative Court.
“As the government has now decided to slash lawyers’ fees in the road traffic accident claims process, many people will be left on their own to negotiate with insurers for fair and proper compensation for their injuries…
“This is a dark day for people who are injured through no fault of their own. We can only hope that the government does not take this judgment as a license to continue to ride rough-shod over the needs of vulnerable people in the future.
MASS chairman Craig Budsworth said the cut “will have a far-reaching negative impact on the legal system, access to justice and the public purse… We need to bring down the cost of motor insurance but it should not be by cutting independent legal advice out of the system and accident victims will be at a severe disadvantage as a result of this judgment.
“Fixing costs at an artificially low level will make it increasingly difficult for genuine accident victims to find a reputable, qualified solicitor to help them with their case and in their dealings with the defendant’s insurer.
“Reform in the sector is too fast, goes too far and has not been given adequate consideration – there will be unintended consequences.”
The Law Society intervened in the case, and chief executive Des Hudson said: “We remain deeply unhappy with the new recoverable costs rules and the process by which the government made its decision. However, it was clear that the decision, however unfair we considered it to be, was going to be difficult to challenge.
“We will continue to impress upon government the need to ensure that those injured through no fault of their own need to be able to seek redress, without putting themselves in severe financial difficulties.”
Defendant representatives and lawyers unsurprisingly welcomed the verdict. James Dalton, head of motor and liability at the Association of British Insurers, said: “The judgment is common sense and good news for customers, clearing the way for their premiums to lower as unnecessary legal costs are stripped out of the system.”
Rod Evans, president of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers, added: “It is pleasing to have a decision that ends the hiatus which has gripped the industry. We now all know where we stand… It’s time to look ahead and start moving towards making the planned reforms work successfully in the best interests of clients on all sides as Lord Justice Jackson envisaged.”
Tracy Head, a partner at insurance law firm Kennedys, argued that the government had no case to answer “having consulted extensively on the Jackson reforms over the last two years”.
She continued: “This application for a judicial review has simply delayed progress on finalising the pre-action protocols necessary for an efficient extension of the claims process. Indeed, we suspect it has been influential on the decision to delay implementation of the new rules required for managing employers’ and public liability claims to July of this year, as opposed to April as originally planned.
“In turn, it has frustrated the efforts of market practitioners to prepare for the forthcoming changes… [The ruling] hopefully means there will be no further challenge to the process of extension and implementation.”