The small claims limit for RTA cases will rise to £5,000 – as they are not cases where people should usually need a lawyer – and the limit for other personal injury cases to £2,000, the justice secretary, David Lidington, confirmed today. But he could not say when.
Mr Lidington also said the government would make an announcement in the “very near future” on its review of LASPO, to be followed by a consultation of some kind where views would be invited “on what changes should be made in the future”.
Speaking at the justice select committee this morning, Mr Lidington said increasing the small claims limits for non-RTA cases to £2,000 would still make it “perfectly possible” for people to claim for industrial injuries.
He said the higher limit for RTA cases was needed because of the problem of whiplash claims for “relatively small” amounts, which was not seen in “other comparable advanced countries”, and the cost of contesting and settling these claims led to an increase in motor insurance premiums.
Mr Lidington said the personal injury changes were “comparable to what we are proposing” for holiday sickness claims, where there was a “persuasive argument by insurers and others that the public as a whole is being harmed because of the exploitation of the system by a number of people”.
He said whiplash cases were “not cases where it ought normally to be necessary to have legal representation” and were “not dissimilar to an insurance claim of some kind”.
He said a fixed tariff of damages would be introduced and it should be “very straightforward” to get medical evidence to support a claim.
On timing, the justice secretary said the personal injury reforms contained in the Civil Liability Bill and mentioned in the Queen’s Speech would come forward when a “legislative slot” was available, but Brexit legislation was the priority.
The Civil Procedure Rule Committee can raise the small claims limit without the need for legislation, but the other changes do require an Act of Parliament and the plan is to bring them all in together.
On LASPO, Mr Lidington said that, despite the changes in scope, the legal aid budget still made up a quarter of the MoJ’s entire expenditure, at £1.6bn.
He said the MoJ would be publishing both the government’s view on “how LASPO has worked out in practice” and “inviting responses on what changes should be made in the future”.
He anticipated “many calls for reforms” and said: “I will look at these with an open mind, but there will be financial limits on what we can do, and I will look at how we can use finite resources to the best possible effect”.
Mr Lidington said he was aware of concerns about the latest legal aid cut, reducing the cap on the number of claimable pages of evidence in the criminal litigators’ graduated fee scheme, and said the legal profession was “nothing if not frank in making responses when they don’t like something”.
He said the step had been taken “after careful thought” and was intended to “restore the status quo to what the government intended it should be”.
The justice secretary said points about “hard cases” which justified changing the rules on legal aid could be made as part of the LASPO review, along with points about the fall in family mediation.
Responding to a question about the rise in numbers of litigants in person, he said technological changes would make some kinds of litigation, such as small money claims, “much more accessible” to people.
He said he wanted “quick progress” on court technology, but given his memory of other government IT projects, “I would rather pause and get it right than see it all crash after a month”.
Despite criticism of the extended court hours pilot, the start of which was postponed last month until February next year, Mr Lidington said he still felt a pilot was needed to “test whether the fears are justified or not” and promised that “everyone will see the criteria by which we judge the outcome”.
On employment tribunal fees and the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer, Mr Lidington said the government still intended to introduce fees, both to cover costs and to deter “frivolous litigation”.
He said nothing in the judgment “ruled out fees in principle, in fact quite the reverse”, but the government had to pay “very careful regard” to the questions of access and affordability.
“It’s a question of getting the balance right. I have accepted that the balance has to change.”