The Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ’s) fixed recoverable costs (FRC) consultation represents a fundamental challenge to the rights of accident victims, with the likely outcome being to their detriment, says the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS).
The civil justice sector is in a period of unprecedented change and by April 2013 there will have been a fundamental shift in the way the industry operates as a result of a series of reforms, including the referral fee ban. Another wave of reforms to the whiplash claims system is also expected shortly.
Craig Budsworth, chair of MASS, said: “We echo the concerns voiced by senior members of the judiciary.
“Each of these changes would be a significant challenge to the entire legal sector. Together they will fundamentally alter civil litigation in the UK and the careful balance between the rights of claimants and defendants.
“They will shift the likelihood of success firmly in favour of defendants.
“The proposed fixed recoverable costs will make it even more difficult in the future for a significant proportion of people who have been involved in motor accidents to seek justice and will have serious unintended consequences.”
MASS says the FRC proposals will:
• Reduce the quality of services offered and the availability of expert, independent legal advice for accident victims. Complex cases valued at up to £25,000 (including minor brain damage, moderate psychiatric damage and fractures) will be subject to the FRC regime. It will not be economically feasible to provide the high quality, professional legal support on such cases for £800;
• Reduce the likelihood of the severely injured to be able to find legal representation. As fewer qualified lawyers undertake such work it is likely that defendant insurers or claims management companies will seek to fill this gap;
• Increase the burden on the courts system as more claimants are forced to represent themselves;
• Increase the costs to the public purse. If fewer injured parties seek to bring claims then the NHS will bear the full costs of treating the injured and DWP will not be able to reclaim any social security payments resulting from accidents.
Budsworth continued: “Before the proposals are implemented we call on the government to conduct an impact assessment on the raft of changes as a single package, and review their impact on the accident victim and the balance in the system.
“As an industry, we must know the evidence base used to justify these proposals before the consultation’s close.
“It is vital that we enter into a constructive process of discussion and negotiation between the concerned parties to determine the appropriate levels of fees going forward.”