Government plans to extend the electronic claims portal to cover all fast-track personal injury claims cannot be achieved by the deadline of next April, the man likely to be charged with doing it has told Legal Futures.
Tim Wallis, independent chairman of RTA Portal Co, indicated that the experience of launching the portal a year ago showed it would take at least 18 months to two years of work to extend it beyond the current limit of road traffic cases worth £10,000 or less.
The claims process is a three-stage system for uncontested claims involving strict deadlines and fixed fees, in which claimant lawyers and defendants communicate through the portal. Extending it to cover employer’s liability, public liability and clinical negligence claims, and increasing the value of cases included to £25,000, is central to the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) aim to reduce the cost of civil litigation as these account for the vast majority of non-debt civil actions.
The green paper on civil costs said: “The government aims to introduce the new extended process by April 2012, subject to consultation and as part of wider civil justice reform.” The Guardian reported on Friday  that the MoJ’s response to the green paper will be published tomorrow, while the MoJ’s 2011-15 business plan  anticipates that a consultation on extending the process will start this month.
Extending the portal was also a recommendation of Lord Young’s review of health and safety , which Chancellor George Osborne confirmed in his Budget speech  last week would be implemented in full.
Speaking recently , justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said extending the claims process would mean that only big cases would be affected by the Jackson proposals contained in the green paper.
Mr Wallis, a one-time senior defendant insurance solicitor who is now a specialist mediator, said there was no desire to obstruct any extension but that from a technical point of view April 2012 “on anyone’s interpretation is not practicable”.
He said he had told Lord Young and the MoJ that the lessons of launching the portal were that any extension would need to go through several stages: the detail of the process would need to be agreed; then the rule committee would draft new civil procedure rules; once these were known, the technical work could begin, followed by testing time, communication with software houses supplying solicitors, and finally roll-out.
Though it is now settling down, the portal – which is a year old on Wednesday – had a rocky start, caused by the previous government allowing six months to build the portal, when 18 months were needed.
Mr Wallis said that while some experts think the existing portal can be extended, others believe it would be best to use the know-how to build a new one alongside it. He emphasised that RTA Portal Co had not yet been asked to do it.
An MoJ spokesman said: “As set out in the Ministry of Justice’s business plan, we intend to consult in due course on extending the simplified road traffic accident claims procedure. We will consider responses to that consultation and then decide on next steps, working alongside the industry.”