Any significant change to the expected rules governing the new personal injury portal will make its introduction in April unlikely, the man charged with building the system has warned.
Dominic Clayden, chief executive of the MIB, also said it would pass on to both the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Financial Conduct Authority evidence of solicitors, insurers or claims management companies trying to play the system or not performing in line with the wider market.
The MIB – commissioned by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to build what is now called Official Injury Claims – is confident of the technology being ready for the 6 April launch if the new rules are substantially similar to the draft version it has been working with.
The Civil Procedure Rule Committee next meets on 7 February and realistically will have to sign off the new rules for the portal – dealing with whiplash and other road traffic claims worth less than £5,000 – for the industry to have any chance of being ready two months later.
Both claimant and defendant lawyers have warned that this might still not be enough time for everyone to adapt, but the MoJ is currently sticking to the April timetable.
Mr Clayden told Legal Futures: “For us to go live in April, we’ve got to be there or thereabouts with what’s been pencilled in [as the rules]. If there are material changes, then that would put an April date under pressure.”
He stressed that both the MIB and the MoJ have to be “comfortable” with the system for it to go live.
The MIB and the industry are also waiting for the MoJ to make other vital policy decisions, such as how the alternative dispute resolution part of the system will work.
“There are a number of key decisions which we need from the MoJ which we have built against some design assumptions which before go-live need to be finalised,” Mr Clayden said. If these go as expected, he said he would be asking the MoJ to allow professional users to test the site as soon as possible.
The portal is being built through a series of 17 ‘sprints’, and the MIB has reached the final one, which involves ‘hardening’ – making sure the system fits together – and dealing with issues that have come out of consumer testing.
This ranges from terminology – consumers did not understand the word ‘compensators’, for example – to ensuring they have confidence that it is an official service, given recent news stories about fake compensation websites.
For now, the portal has a .org address, but consumers will be able to link through to it from the MoJ website, while it will also have links back to the MoJ to reassure users of its status.
More broadly, Mr Clayden said, both consumers and professional testers have liked what they have seen. He cautioned professional users that the site has been built for litigants in person and uses plain English calibrated to the national reading age of 11.
Last week, professional and industry users were able to start registering on the portal, and in the first three days there were 91 applications (83 from law firms), nearly half of which would access it through APIs – linking the site to their own case management systems.
Mr Clayden said MIB has also recruited the first staff for the call centre, and by 6 April there would be 30 people available to deal with calls.
The plan is to publish management information on a monthly basis, showing both average performance and ranges and highlighting whether there are performance outliers, such as insurers that deny a lot of claims or solicitors who take far longer than the average to deal with cases.
Though they would not be named in public, bad actors would be referred to their regulators, he said.
There would also be a role for the media to “shine a light on the good, average and poor”, while those operating above average could market themselves on that basis.
Mr Clayden said the data would be contextualised, meaning the MIB would, for instance, understand that the figures for a law firm which only handles a small number cases a month could be skewed by problems with one or two matters.
He added that it had been difficult to find a name for the portal that was not already being used by existing claims businesses.