Are the road traffic injury claim reforms legal?
As I’ve blogged about previously, the government is currently pushing through dramatic and unprecedented reforms to road traffic cases. These include:
- Significantly reducing the amount of compensation somebody can recover following injury in a road traffic collision
- Preventing the majority of people injured in a road traffic collision from being able to use a solicitor to represent them
A number of commentators including myself have previously pointed out how unfair this is as defendant insurance companies will still use their own solicitors, paid for by insurance premiums, to reject and defend the cases. Injured people will therefore be left trying to fight their own case without any legal representation against experienced defendant insurance solicitors.
Experts have not only questioned whether the government will be able to push through these changes, tied up as they are at present with the Brexit reforms, but also whether the changes may be considered illegal.
Last year the Supreme Court ruled that employment tribunal fees were unlawful because they prevented access to justice. What this means is that the tribunal fees became so high that people who had a valid employment claim were unable to pursue it in the court. A number of experts believed the same thing is about to happen to personal injury law.
When the Supreme Court ruled that the employment tribunal fees were unlawful they were in fact removed completely which then enabled people to once again pursue a legitimate employment law claim if they had one. In the judgment of that case Lord Reed stressed the importance of people being able to access the justice system. In a quote from the case he stated:
“The courts exist in order to ensure that the laws made by Parliament, and the common law created by the courts themselves, are applied and enforced. In order for the courts to perform that role, people must in principal have unimpeded access to them. Without such access, laws are liable to become a dead letter, the work done by Parliament may be rendered nugatory.”
The obvious question when it comes to road traffic accident claims is how will somebody be able to bring a legitimate claim if they cannot use a solicitor and if they are unable to obtain a medical report. I have blogged previously about the issue that most doctors have stated they will not accept instructions from an injured person who does not have a solicitor. As the upcoming changes believe the vast majority of injured people without a solicitor the obvious effect of this is that they will not be able to obtain a medical report and as the defendant insurance companies can insist that there has to be a medical report before they’d make a settlement offer this will, effectively, prevent people from pursuing such cases.
It remains to be seen whether these changes, as it was with the increase in employment tribunal fees, will be challenged in the Supreme Court and whether the Supreme Court would take a similar approach and rule that the changes are unlawful on the basis that they prevent access to justice. Previously the Supreme Court has stood up for employees asserting legal rights, perhaps it will again intervene for employees who have suffered an accident at work?
By James Winterbottom, Solicitor
Aston Knight Solicitors Bury are a specialist firm of solicitors that specialise in serious injuries including medical negligence claims and injury at work compensation. If you would like to discuss further then please contact a member of our team on 0800 999 6661 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free and confidential discussion.