As 2017 fast approaches, it is likely that most personal injury practitioners will be facing the New Year with some trepidation.
On 11th November it was announced that Lord Justice Jackson has been asked to review the situation with regards to civil litigation costs. Amongst other things, the suggestion is that proposals will be made to extend the fixed costs regime into higher value claims. On 17th November it was then announced that a Ministry of Justice consultation is being held to consider reforms to whiplash and low value claims.
The Jackson review will take place through the first part of 2017. It is no secret that his view is that the fixed costs regime should be expanded both in terms of areas of civil litigation and claim value, so it is quite likely that we will see fixed costs on the multi-track before too long.
The costs budgeting regime introduced in 2013, whereby the court is able (and certainly very willing) to impose strict limits on costs recovery, already applies to cases over £25,000 and it is perhaps arguable that this system should be given further time to establish itself before further changes are introduced.
Those opposed to fixed costs have always argued that they do not necessarily serve the interests of justice as they limit the practical ability of solicitors to undertake thorough preparation of a case. The consequence of fixed costs on high-value and complex personal injury claims, if it is introduced into this area of litigation, therefore remains to be seen.
Whilst the Jackson review has been given some months to report, the Ministry of Justice consultation ends on 6th January 2017. The proposals include the suggestion that the current small claims limit be increased from £1,000 to £5,000 and the introduction of a tariff system for more severe whiplash injuries.
The aim of the proposed reforms is, of course, to save money and the Ministry of Justice claims that the reforms could also lead to motorists seeing an annual reduction in their premiums. The practical effect however of further restrictions on low value PI claims could well be a reduction in the number of firms undertaking this area of work. What this means for claimants who have suffered genuine injuries is of obvious concern.
By the end of 2017, therefore, personal injury lawyers could be facing a very different litigation landscape to that in place now. Whether or not it will be one that fulfils the overriding objective of dealing with cases justly is debatable.