Equality of arms

Amidst all of the press coverage of the EU referendum it is easy to overlook the extent to which the UK government is tipping the scales of our justice system in favour of the wealthy and powerful.
In 2014 we had a huge hike in Court fees which means that many are unable to pursue legitimate claims as they are unable to afford to pay the 5% court fee levied to start Court action for claims over £10,000. A small business for instance may not be able to recover money owed by a customer because of the prohibitive nature of the fee imposed by the Courts service.

As if that was not enough, in the Autumn statement Chancellor George Osborne announced two measures which can only be the result of intense lobbying from the insurance industry.

The first is to raise the small claims limit for injury claims to £5,000. The small claims court will be the destination for the majority of such claims. How does that help the insurers? It takes Claimant lawyers out of the equation, as in the small claims court the winner is not awarded his legal costs. This means that insurers with their vast resources can fight even the most clear cut of legitimate claims knowing that they will not have to pay the successful claimant’s legal costs. An army of defendant lawyers, paid from the deep pockets of the insurers, will be instructed to try to run rings around unrepresented litigants in person with little experience of the legal system.

The second and even more worrying proposal is to remove the entitlement to claim compensation for minor soft tissue injuries. This proposal will mean a fundamental change to the common law. It has always been the case that those who suffer harm as a result of the negligence of another should be compensated. To pacify the insurers’ bleating about “fraudulent claims” the Government intends to remove that entitlement. To do so is simply callous and wrong.

Of course, the insurers say that the introduction of these two proposals will result in a reduction in motor insurance premiums. I think that we will all believe that when it happens.

Although Mr Osborne is at pains to bring an end what he sees as the “compensation culture” he nonetheless also wants to introduce an automatic entitlement to compensation for delayed rail journeys. So the poor worker injured at work due to defective equipment and suffering a soft tissue injury won’t be compensated for his injury, but will get something if the train he is using to get to a medical appointment is delayed. You couldn’t make it up.