A new personal injury service, launched today by leading personal injury silk Andrew Ritchie QC, aims to “break the dam” that has led the sector to fall behind others in its use of arbitration.
Mr Ritchie said the Personal Injury claims Arbitration Service  (PIcARBS) was designed for claims worth over £50,000, but was particularly useful for larger claims, which had been hit especially hard by enhanced court fees.
The QC, chairman of the Personal Injury Bar Association, said 15 other silks had already signed up to PIcARBS. He said that although the personal injury sector was “very vital”, it suffered from inertia.
“It has not done what the shipping people, or the building people or the commercial people have done. There is no personal injury court of arbitration.
“The pre-action protocol expressly says that ADR should be considered by the parties, including arbitration.”
Mr Ritchie said the root cause of problems with personal injury litigation was the change to the overriding objective initiated by Lord Justice Jackson, and the importance now put on convenience for the court.
“Since Denton, there have been fewer strikings-out, but there is still a lot of technical point taking. Lawyers have to make applications in advance for extensions, leading to masses of paperwork. Mitchell and Denton are responsible for hundreds of meaningless applications to district judges and masters.”
On the courts, he said: “Instead of a taxpayer-funded service, there is now a service we have to pay for and, with enhanced fees, we are now having to pay for the family courts as well.”
Mr Ritchie said that, with PIcARBs, there were no Mitchell strike-outs, no costs budgeting and no court fees. All its arbitrators were specialist QCs, rather than district or circuit judges with no PI experience.
Parties would be charged £1,600 plus VAT to cover their entry to the system, the signing up of an arbitrator, opening their individual user home page and providing e-filing for the duration of the arbitration.
PIcARBS is owned by a limited company of the same name, of which Mr Ritchie is the only director, but it is non-profit making, meaning that the £1,600 fee would be reduced if enough cases went through the system.
Mr Ritchie said he had discussed the arbitration service with insurers during the past year and with the NHSLA, and he hoped that both would eventually come on board.
“This is a three-year project for me,” he added. “In the next three years the dam will break. It will either be the NHSLA or an insurer, and there will suddenly be a rush.”