A campaign to expose the Coalition government’s “hidden agenda” in pursuing Lord Justice Jackson’s reforms of personal injury (PI) costs was launched in London today.
The Access to Justice Action Group – which is being co-ordinated by former Labour MP and claimant PI lawyer Andrew Dismore – highlights that the reforms will cut the number of law firms in the field and thus reduce access to justice.
The campaign has already attracted law firms Ralli and Goldsmith Williams, claims management company Accident Advice Helpline (AAH), legal expenses insurer DAS and medical reporting agencies Mobile Doctors and Doctors Chambers to its ranks.
TV personality Esther Rantzen, who is the face of AAH’s advertising, is also backing the campaign.
Mr Dismore told the launch – which was aimed at drumming up both support and funding – that clients, their lawyers and others face a “nuclear cold winter” if the Jackson proposals are implemented without amendment. He said the campaign will argue that the proposals will deny access to justice and seek to raise public understanding of the issues.
The meeting was told that a hidden agenda was behind last month’s green paper on implementing the thrust of the Jackson report. Mr Dismore said this took several forms:
- The government is a defendant in its own right and so its policy is neither objective nor evidence based;
- The government is “covering up medical accidents as waiting lists and times grow, standards fall and cuts bite”, and not focusing on improving the performance of the NHS Litigation Authority and encouraging doctors to say sorry;
- The government wants “to cover up for other public bodies to conceal the consequences of their cuts”, such as broken pavements not fixed and public buildings not maintained;
- The government is “in bed with the liability insurers”;
- The government wants to cover up the consequences of Court Service cuts and court closures by reducing the number of cases; and
- The government is ignoring the loss of income (recoupments and VAT) and additional costs that the reforms will produce – such as a greater burden on the NHS to care for accident victims – “for ideological reasons”.
He also argued that the proposals are anti-competitive by reducing choice of solicitors able to make PI work pay and after-the-event insurers.
Mr Dismore said the judge’s fallback option of greater controls on the recoverability of success fees and ATE premiums was the better approach, and that defendants’ costs and spend should also be capped. He added that since 75% of PI claims are now dealt with through the Ministry of Justice’s claims portal, the Jackson proposals are a “sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
AAH managing director Darren Werth, who chaired the meeting, said the claimant “industry” has been disjointed in its response to the Jackson report but that this is now a “political fight”. He emphasised that the group was not a trade association but a collection of “like-minded people”.
He reported that he had attended a Jackson stakeholder meeting at the Ministry of Justice last week, chaired by minister Jonathan Djanogly, and that the government did seem open to arguments.The Ministry of Justice and Department of Health are currently dealing with 124 parliamentary questions aimed at teasing out what statistics the government has that underpin the green paper proposals.