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Small claims increase risks ‘catastrophic delays’ for accident victims

No level playing field for litigants in person, APIL warns

11 March 2013

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Increasing the small claims limit for personal injury cases to £5,000 could lead to “catastrophic delays” in the courts, the president of APIL warned today.

Karl Tonks said the increase, outlined in the MoJ’s consultation paper on whiplash claims, would force “hundreds of thousands” more road traffic injury victims into the small claims court.

“If the family law experience tells us anything, it tells us that the courts could grind to a complete halt and chaos will be the result,” he said.

“Without a legal ‘buffer’ to help people understand the system, people struggle to comply with court rules and judges regularly have to halt proceedings to explain the legal process.”

Tonks said personal injury lawyers were concerned that district judges would not be able to level the playing field between unrepresented injury victims and the defendants they faced in court.

“Judges are obliged to be impartial and fair to all parties, which inevitably means that, while they can assist individuals to some extent, they cannot actively advise either party.

“Furthermore, an independent study has found that judges are more reluctant to intervene where one party (usually the defendant) is legally represented.

“These ill-advised proposals raise the serious spectre of bewildered injury victims who cannot find their way through the court system, and catastrophic delays to the court process.”

The MoJ consultation ‘Reducing the number and cost of whiplash claims’ closed on Thursday. It proposed increasing the small claims limit for all personal injury cases to £5,000, increasing the limit for whiplash claims to £5,000 or keeping the status quo.

APIL said that research showed that by instructing a lawyer, claimants received on average three times as much as they did by accepting the first offer made to them by insurers.

As well as changing the small claims limit, the consultation paper suggested that whiplash claims should be referred to independent medical panels, using standard forms.

Meanwhile, an early day motion in the Commons signed by five Labour and two Liberal Democrat MPs called on the government to carry out an impact assessment on the Jackson reforms before making further changes to the system.

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Health & Safety