Labour and Liberal Democrats bid to derail Civil Liability Bill whiplash reforms

Beecham: Solicitor has laid several amendments to bill

Labour and Liberal Democrat peers have put down a host of amendments to the Civil Liability Bill which aim to limit the impact it would have on whiplash claimants.

Tomorrow the bill enters its committee stage in the House of Lords, which allows for changes to the bill, subject either to agreement from the government or, more likely, a vote of the house.

The Labour frontbench pairing of Lord Beecham, a solicitor, and Lord McKenzie of Luton seek to put the definition of a whiplash injury in the hands of the Chief Medical Officer, rather than the Lord Chancellor, and also restrict the reforms to injuries that last no longer than a year, rather than two as proposed in the bill.

They also want the Civil Justice Council, rather than the Lord Chancellor, to recommend the appropriate compensation tariff, and review it annually.

Another amendment would allow the court to award damages of more than the tariff where it would be just to do so; the bill only empowers judges to increase the tariff by 20%.

In addition, the Labour peers seek to ban claims management companies from handling whiplash claims in the small claims court, and also require a review of the operation of the new regime after two years.

Leading for the Liberal Democrats are Lord Sharkey and barrister Lord Marks. Their amendments seek to restore the Judicial College Guidelines as the benchmark for compensation, in place of the new tariff.

They say the new regime should not come into force before a pre-action protocol for whiplash claims allocated to the small claims track is in place, “with the objective of ensuring that the procedures for claimants pursuing such claims are simple and readily understandable for claimants who are not in receipt of legal advice and representation”.

They also want the Lord Chancellor to commission a report after the first year of the reforms to determine the extent to which insurers have passed on any savings made by the whiplash reforms.

Among the other amendments put down was one by Labour peers Baroness Primarolo and Lord Bassam that would restrict increasing the small claims limit for PI from £1,000 to £1,500, and only if justified on the basis of the retail prices index since 1999. It could then only increase in £500 instalments on the basis of the index.

Meanwhile, the government has published the draft regulations that under the bill would set a definition of whiplash and lay out the compensation tariff.

This may be to head off concerns among peers that they needed this information to judge the bill; the House of Lords’ delegated powers committee has said these two key elements should be on the face of the bill, which various amendments seeks to do.

Confusingly, the draft regulations contain the tariff figures first floated by the Ministry of Justice last year but since updated, and uprated, earlier this year.

Any amendments would still need to be approved by the House of Commons.


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