The government has made clear its intention to push ahead with extending the RTA process and also increasing the personal injury small claims limit next April despite publication of the Fenn report yesterday.
The report indicated that it was too early to extend the process to higher-value road traffic cases and to other types of PI claim, while previously the company behind the electronic RTA portal said it could not be done in time, but the Ministry of Justice told Litigation Futures that there will be no changes to its plans.
A spokeswoman said: “The government is committed to extending the RTA protocol to cover cases up to £25,000 and to cover claims arising out of employer’s liability and public liability. The extension will take place in April 2013. The government is also committed to reducing the fixed recoverable costs in the scheme by the same deadline. Detailed work on the revised process is ongoing.”
The language about increasing the small claims limit for PI cases from £1,000 to £5,000, however, was slightly less adamant. “The government is intending to expand the scope of the current scheme by next April,” she said. “The operation of the scheme will be kept under review following its expansion.”
Claimant lawyers were up in arms following publication of the Fenn report. Deborah Evans, chief executive of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: “It’s appalling that we’ve had to wait a year for this report to be published, as it includes very important information. It’s a great disappointment that it shows that damages have fallen in cases which have gone through the portal, as the intention of the streamlined process was to keep injured people’s damages at the same level.
“As the report shows that the vast majority of cases in the portal are below a value of £3,500, we question why the government sees sense in extending the process to even higher-value cases. In light of Professor Fenn’s recommendation for a further review of the current scheme, the government must now stop and think rather than extend the portal in haste.”
Tom Jones, head of policy and public affairs at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Now we know why the government has sat on Professor Fenn’s research. The work shows there is no justification for extending the RTA claims process to higher-value claims or to employer’s and public liability claims.
“The new claims process has reduced damages more than it has costs, has had little impact on turnaround times and half of all cases have fallen out of the portal early in the process. All of this is unhelpful to a government department seemingly hell bent on extending the portal. If the government presses on in the face of this decidedly weak endorsement of the portal process, it will prove beyond doubt that policy is based on anecdote, ideology and returning favours to Conservative Party donors rather than evidence.”
A spokesman for the Motor Accident Solicitors Society argued that the portal concept is sound but that “a logical, timetabled approach is required, which is consulted upon throughout”. Only once the revised portal has been built around a “new and costed process”, and then reviewed in operation, can the government evaluate whether a review of the small claims court limit for PI cases is appropriate, he said.
Litigation Futures also requested comments on the Fenn report from the Law Society, Forum of Insurance Lawyers and Association of British Insurers, but none was forthcoming at the time of going to press.