The Law Society has challenged the government to show the evidence on which it based the decision to slash the RTA portal fee after having a Freedom of Information Act request rejected, which Chancery Lane suggested may indicate that it does not exist.
The move increases the pressure on the government, which has been strongly criticised by the claimant lobby for failing to explain explicitly the basis for its proposed fee cut.
This should be tested next Friday when the High Court hears the judicial review application brought by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and Motor Accident Solicitors Society.
Chancery Lane had sought disclosure of the full version of the report on the first year of operation of the portal, which the Ministry of Justice commissioned from Professor Paul Fenn. However, publication was delayed until after the decision to extend the portal had been made; when it was published, the findings did not support extension at this stage.
The society has cause to believe that there is unpublished material – although what is in it is unknown – and has requested a review of the refusal, arguing that “the government is hiding behind a misapplication of the Freedom of Information Act in order to save its blushes”.
It is not the first attempt to use the Act to secure the background information used to calculate the new fee; north-west firm Forster Dean submitted a request in November and has been through the appeals process, but did not receive the key information it was after.
Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said: “It is hard to understand why the government is refusing to share or publish in full the research which it commissioned from a respected academic. Since it received Professor Fenn’s evidence, government has published its proposals for changing fixed recoverable costs relating to personal injury claims in road accidents. Presumably the government commissioned the factual study to inform its thinking on how fixed costs might be changed.
“The government should base its policymaking on a sound factual basis. The alternative is that the government’s proposals are based on ministers’ own preconceived ideas or on lobbying from the insurance sector. Why will it not now share that factual evidence? Is it perhaps that the changes the government has proposed are not supported by Fenn’s study?
“This matters for anyone injured in a car accident. Lower fixed costs reduce their chances of securing their proper payout from the insurance company… The factual evidence should be published so that we can all see it for ourselves. Transparency in policymaking will help to reinforce trust in government and the political process.”