The Civil Procedure Rule Committee last week put off approving the rules for the new whiplash portal until next month, making the April start-date all-but impossible.
However, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has not yet admitted defeat over the timetable.
All eyes were on Friday’s meeting of the committee, with the absence of the necessary rules and protocols arguably the most significant of the several outstanding matters in relation to the new process for road traffic personal injury claims worth up to £5,000.
A committee official has confirmed that members were told the rules would not be examined in detail until the March meeting.
The committee has now published what will be in the 113th update of the CPR, coming into force either on 30 March or 6 April, and it does not mention these changes.
An MoJ spokesman told Legal Futures: “Our whiplash reforms will make claiming for personal injury simple, fair and proportionate and we are continuing to work towards the April implementation date.”
Officials are said to be engaging regularly with the sub-committee of the rule committee responsible for the rules and pre-action protocols.
Even if they pass in March, both claimant and defendant interests are unlikely to be able to adapt for the new process in time for 6 April.
Further, if there are significant changes to what is put before the committee, the portal itself would not be ready.
Speaking last month, MIB chief executive Dominic Clayden, who is in charge of building it, said that if there were material changes to the draft rules that he has been working with, it would be difficult to have the portal ready for April – and that was on the basis of the rules being agreed in February.
This assumes as well that any rules agreed in March could complete their parliamentary passage in time.
Paul Nicholls, chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, said: “With the CPRC reportedly unable to agree new rules at its February meeting, April’s implementation date is almost certainly going to be missed.
“We await urgent clarification from the MoJ on its current plans and hope that it sits down with stakeholders from across the sector to work on some solutions and make the best of a poor situation.
“Claimants and insurers need a reasonable lead-in time to adapt to the new claims process once its agreed and it must be fit-for-purpose for self-litigants who are going to be left struggling on their own.”
Also last month, David Parkin, deputy director of civil justice and law policy at the MoJ, said the department was looking at viability of the timetable, saying “we’re still discussing with ministers where we are, what we’ve still to do and when we can implement”.
He acknowledged that – aside from the rules – there were still several policy issues to resolve, such as how the alternative dispute resolution element of the portal will work, and how the system will treat vulnerable people and minors.