The QC behind a pioneering personal injury and medical negligence arbitration service has warned that it could close before Christmas if there are no new cases.
Andrew Ritchie QC, based at 9 Gough Chambers, said that after five years of running the service and lecturing “up and down the country”, the Personal Injury claims Arbitration Service (PIcARBS) had only dealt with two cases, both of which settled at an early stage.
He said: “I am either before my time or barking up the wrong tree. I don’t think I am barking up the wrong tree because I can’t see how this is bad for the client.
“There has been a failure by the industry in not wanting to trial the service. They just could not get their head around it – that’s what disappoints me.
“I can’t keep banging my head against a brick wall. It is beginning to hurt.”
Mr Ritchie said he had put nine months of his time into PIcARBS and spent around £35,000 on expenses related to it, in return for which the service had generated a total income of £4,000.
“Five years down the line, the business is not viable,” he said. “The industry does not care how slow the system is, they would rather stick with it. It is time I accepted that.”
The QC said he launched the service in 2015 as a response to the decision by the Ministry of Justice to increase court fees to £10,000 for personal injury cases valued at £200,000 or more.
“It was the right time to introduce a competitor for big personal injury and clinical negligence disputes,” he said.
“The service has proved itself. It’s very efficient and cheap but nobody wants to use it.”
PIcARBS offers digital filing, at a time when Queen’s Bench Division proceedings are still paper-based.
Mr Ritchie said the service had trained 20 silks and 20 junior barristers as arbitrators for “only two cases which immediately settled”.
He said the launch was followed in 2017 by a meeting at City firm Clyde & Co of the top 20 claimant personal injury firms and top 10 insurers.
Mr Ritchie said 12 claimant firms signed up and three insurers. The law firms made a “non-binding commitment” to take 10 cases each through a one-year pilot of the PIcARBS scheme.
In the end, only one case went through the pilot, while another settled outside it. Both were “very substantial multi-track cases”.
Meanwhile, he lectured “up and down the country” to 55 organisations, some of them law firms, including three appearances at the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers annual conference.
“Many claimant firms said to me ‘It’s a great idea, we’ll do it’ but none of them did. They just don’t want to leave the courts.”
Mr Ritchie said the two claimant firms which had brought cases, Dean Wilson and Thorneycroft, were both smaller practices. Clyde & Co and Keoghs represented the defendants.
The barrister said he had spoken to NHS Resolve about PIcARBS, which thought the arbitration service was “interesting”, but wanted to focus entirely on mediation, even though it was not binding.
NHS Resolve could save enormous amounts in legal costs by using the scheme but was not prepared to give it a trial, he argued. “How do you justify that?”
Mr Ritchie said there were many “false dawns” for PIcARBS, such as when the service almost handled the breast implant litigation.