It will be impossible to extend the RTA portal either to larger claims or to employer’s and public liability claims by the target date of April 2013, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been told.
The MoJ held its first stakeholder meeting on extending the RTA portal last Thursday, and Legal Futures understands that a paper submitted by the company behind the portal said it would take 11 months to amend the portal to encompass RTA claims worth up to £25,000, and two years and seven months to build and test a new system for EL and PL.
Further, it said this work could only begin once the Civil Procedure Rule Committee has set the rules and we believe the committee has been asked to complete this work by December.
John Spencer, who represented the Motor Accident Solicitors Society at the meeting, said: “You can’t compress two and a half years’ work into one year. You either challenge the premise that it will take that long, which they [the MoJ] haven’t, or you have to start taking notice.”
More broadly claimant groups at the meeting cast doubt on whether in practice a portal could be made to work for EL and PL cases at all given their far greater complexity.
Legal Futures has heard suggestions that the simpler approach for the government – given that its focus is on reducing cost – would be to return to the fixed-cost matrix for fast-track personal injury cases in appendix 5 of Lord Justice Jackson’s final report.
Tim Wallis, the independent chairman of RTA Portal Co, told Legal Futures: “It is not appropriate for me to comment on the detail of particular aspects that are the subject of ongoing discussion. Stakeholders are kept informed via their board representatives.
“Timetables can be challenging and we shall be advising the MoJ about technical aspects of process and portal extension and how and when they can be delivered.”
The meeting was chaired by justice minister Jonathan Djanogly. A range of bodies were around the table, including the Law Society, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), Motor Accident Solicitors Society, Personal Injuries Bar Association, Trades Union Congress, Association of British Insurers, Forum of Insurance Lawyers, Claims Standards Council, and Motor Insurers Bureau.
Also on the agenda was the level of fixed costs payable under the RTA portal, which the government expects to fall as a result of the ban on referral fees. We understand that the ABI suggested that the £1,200 currently paid for the first two stages should fall to £3-400.
However, an APIL spokeswoman said there was little evidence of research into solicitors’ costs in conducting portal cases, pointing out that plenty of firms do not pay referral fees at all. “We need to be convinced that this will be taken into account,” she said. “You can’t just arbitrarily cut costs without cutting the professionalism of the service.”
A Law Society spokesman said: “In the words of Jonathan Djanogly, it was ‘an exercise with a purpose’ and ‘the objective is to reduce insurance premiums’. He wants expert input into the initiative and requested data to support the arguments from all interested parties and wanted to keep a dialogue going in order to achieve suitable results.
“He confirmed that it is the government’s intention to extend the existing streamline RTA portal process to employer and public liability claims but realised that there would be hurdles to doing this. The government will introduce the new claims procedures by April 2013  and Mr Djanogly accepted that in those circumstances the processes may have to be simple rather than detailed.
“The Law Society welcomes the opportunity to be involved in this and appreciates Mr Djanogly’s willingness to listen to us and consider the evidence which we will be providing… We are consulting with the profession and asking them to provide data which will assist us in this task.”
An MoJ spokeswoman said it was a “constructive” meeting and pledged that “everyone will have the opportunity to feed their concerns in”.