I have been deeply saddened at the recent spate of knife crime across London and I send my condolences to those families who have been so needlessly affected.
In November, Jay Hughes, a 15-year-old child was murdered in Bellingham and, less than 72 hours later, a 22-year-old, Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez, was killed in Anerley. These tragic murders came just a year on from that of teenager Michael Jonas in Betts Park. I raised these awful events with Ministers soon afterwards, see below video:
Each of these murders shook the community and it was troubling to learn that yesterday (25th March), a 15-year-old boy was stabbed on Dartmouth Road in Forest Hill. I wish to pay tribute to the emergency services who attended the scene and those who helped treat the individual in hospital. I was pleased to later be informed that his condition was improving and no longer considered life-threatening.
Whilst it may appear that Parliament is consumed by Brexit, please rest assured that I continue to proactively engage on this most important issue. I have raised the issues around serious violence in Parliament on several occasions, including most recently on two Urgent Questions on knife crime which can be viewed here:
I have also had meetings with the Home Secretary to discuss my specific concerns and have been in direct contact with both Lewisham and Bromley Police, the Mayor of London’s team, a number of schools and youth services as well as local activists and campaigners who specialise in issues that affect young people.
The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has recently admitted there is some link between falling police numbers and a rise in violent crime contradicting the answer I received from the Prime Minister when I questioned her in April 2018 over this link (see below video). Whilst our police do an absolutely fantastic job, they should be properly funded to deal with these serious crimes.
Whilst the £1 billion worth of cuts the Met have faced since 2010 are completely unacceptable, we must also recognise that current knife crime has some other deep-rooted causes. I have long been a proponent of a public health approach to resolving the current issues around knife crime which has previously worked in cities like Glasgow. Locally we have seen cuts to the police, child and adolescent mental health services, schools and youth services. These must be restored if we are to fully tackle this issue and I have previously called for Ministers to commit to a comprehensive joined-up, cross-departmental approach to youth violence. I spoke at length about this in the debates in Parliament on youth violence and knife crime, see below:
These issues are by no means limited to my constituency or London and I will continue to work with national Government, councils, the Mayor of London and the police to do all I can to bring about meaningful actions to tackle the troubling increase in serious youth violence.
If you would like to find out more about my activity in Parliament, you can also find my speeches through the Hansard website: https://hansard.parliament.uk
When the Government’s shambolic handling of the Brexit process has led us to a position that cannot even satisfy their own ministers, we must look at all options that will help us avoid entering a further period of long and protracted political deadlock.
Theresa May and her Brexit plan is currently at the behest of the rampant Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party. Any Brexit craved by Jacob Rees-Mogg and his friends is not one that I could ever be comfortable with.
I respect the outcome of the 2016 poll, but it does not mean that we must blindly accept the Government’s approach or their draft agreement. The people need to be given their voice again.
The political landscape has changed drastically since the referendum and it becomes excruciatingly apparent with every week we come closer to exit day that the promises made to the British public during the campaign are far from the reality of today.
Nobody voted for a Brexit that will see Britain giving away control and leaving people poorer. Whether it’s a no deal or this terrible deal, the result would be the same: a miserable Brexit for the UK threatening business confidence, our NHS and the future of young people.
It’s only going to get worse with the biggest issues unresolved while we follow rules over which we will no longer have any say – and suffer long term damage to our economy.
Unsurprisingly, the draft withdrawal agreement presented to Cabinet has been met with a chorus of criticism from both sides of the Brexit divide and even the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has resigned, the second in four months.
I have previously vowed to not support any form of Brexit that would be detrimental to my constituents. London voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the European Union and in Lewisham West and Penge this was by a factor of 2 to 1.
A bad deal would be devastating for London. Analysis has shown a no-deal Brexit could see 87,000 jobs go in London alone and the capital’s economic output 2% lower in 2030 than what would be expected under a softer Brexit. This is the harsh reality we now face.
The June 2016 referendum was the biggest democratic exercise in our nation’s history. The only way we can resolve the democratic conundrum and political deadlock of the Brexit process is to go back to the people once more.
By calling for a People’s Vote, I believe the electors should again be extended their democratic right to have their say in the make-up of our future relationship with the European Union with an option to remain.
This vote should not be thought of as running the referendum again, but what we now face is something that wasn’t on the ballot paper in 2016.
The negotiations have been both chaotic and shambolic and the promises of that campaign are a distant memory. We find ourselves at a defining juncture in our history and it is only fair that the people decide on what comes next.
On Tuesday the Civil Liability Bill will enter its remaining stages in the House of Commons. My Labour colleagues and I have continually warned that the implementation of the Government’s package of measures, formulated under the auspices of tackling whiplash fraud and reforming personal injury claims, will leave deep and long-lasting damage on access to justice.
The Bill, which passed Committee stage in September with minor amendments, will see widespread changes to damages for whiplash injuries by replacing the established Judicial Studies Board guidelines with a rigid tariff system - injured claimants could receive up to 87% less.
The Bill is coupled with increases in the small claims limit from £1,000 to £2,000 in all personal injury claims and from £1,000 to £5,000 in all road traffic injury cases, meaning thousands of injured people could fall out of scope for free legal advice and representation and could be potentially denied justice. This is because costs are not recoverable from the losing party in the small claims court so injured people will either have to pay their legal costs themselves, which can often be expensive, or forego legal assistance altogether.
Whilst genuinely injured people will find it harder to access justice, insurance companies are predicted to save £1.3 billion a year because of these changes. Ahead of the debate at Second Reading, both in correspondence to the Chair of the Justice Select Committee and in response to the Committee’s report on the small claims limit, the Government pledged to bring in an amendment that would mean these savings are passed on to customers.
Yet what we were presented with was little more than a fudge. The Government came forward with an amendment which merely requires insurers to supply information about the effect of the enactment of the legislation, rather than any onus on them to pass on the billions worth of savings. It has become increasingly apparently that this Bill is solely for the benefit of the insurance industry.
The changes made at committee stage have done nothing to address the very real worry that the combined implementation of the Civil Liability Bill and forthcoming adjustments to the small claims limit is predicted to see around 350,000 injured people put off pursuing a claim for an injury that was not their fault. Access to justice should not be considered a luxury yet with the introduction of this package of measures that is precisely what it is fast becoming.
We should be working to strengthen access to justice for people up and down the country, not curbing it. All these measures do is prop up the balance sheets for the insurance companies, yet consumers will see little to no change in their premiums and it will become more and more difficult to pursue a claim and to access justice.
The Bill and its appendages are flawed and damaging. The Tories abysmal record on access to justice will only get worse and the lessons of LASPO or employment tribunal fees have not been heeded. It is becoming patently obvious that the enactment of this Bill will see access to justice eviscerated for many. It is surely time to think again.
Access to justice for all is something which we have prided ourselves on for generations. It forms part of our legal fabric and democratic values. Yet under this Government access to justice is fast becoming a luxury of the few.
The Civil Liability Bill currently navigating its way through the Commons forms part of the latest package of measures which would see widespread changes made to claims for whiplash and personal injury.
At Second Reading on Tuesday 4th September, I outlined how changes implemented by the Bill, such as the measures to replace Judicial Studies Board guidelines with a rigid tariff system will see genuinely injured claimants receive up to 87% less.
The Government would have us believe that we are in the midst of a compensation culture epidemic, but this Bill would do no more than to shore up the profits of insurance companies, currently calculated to be over £1bn per year as a result of the package of measures the Government have brought forward.
The Bill, at present, contains no mechanism to pass on these savings to customers through their premiums, and suggestions from Ministers that they will bring forward an amendment on this is merely an afterthought in their latest ideological attack on the justice system.
Of course, fraudulent claims are wrong but to paint all injured claimants with broad brushstrokes is deeply misguided and one which will severely inhibit access to justice. Insurance industry data has shown that in 2016, 0.17% of all motor claims were proven to be fraudulent; a fall from the 0.25% recorded in 2015.
If the Government are intent on fraud reduction, they should not let the genuinely injured suffer and I welcome the amendments being prepared by my Labour colleagues which will seek to heavily alter the Bill at Committee stage.
We must remember that Tory governments have a horrendous recent track record on legal issues and in the ten years from 2010 to 2020, Ministry of Justice funding will see a real-terms cut of 40%.
The Government were warned at the time of proceeding with LASPO that it would severely impact access to justice, but its effects have gone further and deeper than was ever intended, with the number of civil legal aid matters initiated falling by 84% between 2010 and 2017.
The changes to employment tribunal fees brought in under another Tory Lord Chancellor, which have since been found to be unlawful, caused a 68% fall in the number of single cases received per quarter between October 2013 and June 2017.
The Civil Liability Bill and secondary legislation changes to the small claims limit is predicted to see around 350,000 injured people put off pursuing a claim for an injury that was not their fault.
Access to justice underpins so much within our society. It cannot be banded around and dismissed with the cavalier attitude that is currently shown by this Government. The Civil Liability Bill will see a regression in the ability of genuinely injured people to seek compensation and justice for their injuries.
This cannot be right, and we must not find ourselves deeper in a rabbit warren of legal advice vacuums and stories aplenty of access to justice denied as a result of this Government’s flawed package of measures.
Last Friday the Government announced that it will terminate its contracts with companies that run probation services two years earlier than planned.
Ever since their inception in 2015, privately run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) have completely failed those they were set up to serve and their failures have also come at an immense cost to the taxpayer.
Just last year the Government had to bailout the service by £342 million and the redrawing of these existing contracts will cost the government a further £170m.
In addition to this, 71% of fines made to the companies by the Ministry of Justice for poor performance have been waived to help keep these companies afloat.
The decision to privatise this service was made by the coalition Government following on from the 2013 “Transforming Rehabilitation” (TR) consultation.
The service was split in 2015 into the national probation service, which is public and deals with high-risk offenders, and the outsourced, private community rehabilitation companies, which work with medium and low-risk offenders.
The reasoning behind this split was an aim to make it easier to reduce prisoner re-offending rates. Whilst the number of people re-offending has reduced slightly, those that do re-offend are committing crimes much more frequently.
Yet, the Justice Committee, of which I am a member, recently produced a report on the TR reforms which found that they are not meeting the then Government’s aims.
The report states: “We are unconvinced that as things stand the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service.”
This was evidenced by the fact that by the end of June 2017, CRCs had met an average of just eight of the 24 targets set under their contracts, with the worst-performing CRC meeting only four.
This consultation was not just about rehabilitation, but also about protecting the public—a linchpin of any justice system.
However, in a recent BBC Panorama documentary, the Chief Inspector of Probation stated that she could not say for certain that every private probation company was managing to protect the public as well as it should.
In its investigation, Panorama spoke to an offender who was released from a short sentence in May. He said that he had not met his probation officer for almost a month after release, in the past, he knew exactly who his probation officer was, but now it was hard to tell.
The documentary went on to reveal that one CRC covering London had a record of 15,000 appointments being missed by offenders over a 16-month period. A whistle-blower from this company said that CRCs are employing fewer staff, so individual members of staff have higher caseloads.
The whistle-blower also said that staff were instructed by the CRC to alter records, so that missed appointments were wiped if they were more than two weeks old.
Probation is ultimately a caring profession and it should be viewed as being a bit like teaching or social work. However, it is clear that those who work within the service are being hugely let down by privatised and profit-driven CRCs.
This profit motive has turned the service into a tick-box exercise, but it is not a profession that should be driven by such targets; it requires a well-rounded approach centred on individuals and their needs, not—as we see all too often—on offenders’ ability to provide profits to the CRC.
It is clear that the privatisation of probation services has failed, and the overarching point, which repeats itself time and again, is that this is yet another example of Government-led privatisation that has gone wrong.
The original arrangement and subsequent contracts were not fit for purpose in the first place, and what we are left with is a system driven by the ideological desire to privatise key elements of our justice system and defend the cause even when it evidently fails.
There are some institutions which when the profit motive is the guiding principle behind the actions, the service stops functioning for what it was set out to do. The probation system is one such service and it is an affront to our justice system that this Government have let this happen.
The Government’s announcement to terminate its contracts two years early is further evidence of this privatisation failure.
It is now time, once and for all, to bring the failed schemes back under public control, so that we can get to the root causes of re-offending and provide rehabilitation services that are fit for purpose.
As chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party Backbench Justice Group, I hosted a meeting on the Government’s Civil Liability Bill ahead of its return to the Commons which if passed, I believe, would be detrimental for access to justice.
On the face of it, the Civil Liability Bill’s target is to reduce the number or fraudulent whiplash claims which the Government believe represents an ‘out of control compensation culture’.
However, the whiplash case has been used as a smokescreen to mask a more insidious measure. The Bill, as it currently stands, will take away the right to free legal advice for hundreds of thousands of people injured at work or on the roads every year whose claims have nothing to do with whiplash.
Although not on the face of the Bill, the proposed increase in the small claims limit would see the limit raised from £1,000 to £5,000 for road traffic accident-related personal injury claims and from £1,000 to £2,000 for other personal injury claims.
Below these proposed limits, the injured claimant will have to either fight their case themselves or pay for a lawyer out of compensation meant to be for their injuries and their losses. This means that even if a claimant’s case is successful they will generally not be able to recover their legal costs and therefore not receive the full compensation they need to secure their immediate future.
Around 40% of cases are below these proposed limits which would mean leaving up to 500,000 people a year without the free legal cover they are entitled to. I believe this is an active assault on our access to justice.
Firstly, this undermines the longstanding legal principle that the guilty party pays and thus unfairly leaves victims liable for greater legal costs.
Secondly, the idea that people will have to represent themselves is absurd. The pain and trauma of an accident will make it extremely unlikely that the victim will then take on the further stress and burden of pursuing a claim without legal representation.
This is backed up by a survey conducted by Unison which found that 63% of members surveyed stated that they “would not have proceeded or been at all confident to bring their claim without legal representation”.
Even if defendants were to pursue their case without representation, the already overburdened civil court system would likely be unable to cope with the number of injured people attempting to run their own cases. Despite this, the Government believes that 75% of cases will be run by injured people on their own, without legal support.
However, when similar fees were introduced for Employment Tribunals there was a 90% decline in the number of workers pursuing a claim and the fees were later ruled to be unlawful by the Supreme Court. This leads me to believe a similar decline in cases would occur should this Bill pass.
All in all, the Government seems to believe these measures will be combating an ‘out of control compensation culture’ but I feel this is unfair; is it not the responsibility of the insurers themselves to combat fraudulent claims? If they think a claim is fraudulent then they shouldn’t pay out, it’s as simple as that.
However, it would seem that instead of taking responsibility and resolving this themselves the insurance industry are in cahoots with the Tories to hit out against all injury victims, including those at work which whiplash has nothing to do with.
But for the insurance industry there is good reason to do this. An impact assessment on the Bill suggests the increase in the small claims limit means insurers will get an extra £1.3 billion a year. This figure includes saving £6m worth of pay-outs to the NHS and £140m worth of pay-outs to the Treasury every year.
The recent Justice Committee Report on this matter expressed deep misgivings about where the Government is going with this Bill. It stated that the Government had not set out a compelling case for a further increase in the limits and that the Committee is extremely concerned that any rise could seriously impede access to justice.
I wholeheartedly agree with these conclusions and adamantly oppose the Government’s plans. In our Backbench Justice Group meeting, it was heartening to see the strength of opposition to these proposals from the Shadow Justice team, Thompsons Solicitors and Usdaw.
I have tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to postpone their current plans for raising the small claims limit. We now need to win over support across the House to draw further attention to these damaging proposals.
If they pass, this will severely degrade access to justice and will be direct evidence of the Tories favouring the few in the insurance industry over the many who rely on these measures to receive justice.
On 5 June 2018, the Government presented its final proposal for an airports national policy statement (NPS), which outlined its support for plans to deliver a new runway at Heathrow, with a target date of 2026.
The Opposition has always argued that any airport expansion must meet four tests - that it can effectively deliver on capacity demands, that noise and air quality issues are fully addressed, that the UK's climate change obligations are met in full and that growth across the country is supported. I believe we owe it to future generations to ensure that these factors are dealt with in exactly the right way.
Whilst I recognise the need for additional airport capacity in the south east of England, after careful consideration, I do not believe that these tests have been met. I am of the opinion that Heathrow expansion is incompatible with environmental targets and cannot be achieved without unacceptable impacts on local residents.
I believe that we must support vital investment in our country's transport infrastructure, but every investment must be tested on whether it provides real value for money and sustainability. Unfortunately, I believe that a third runway at Heathrow fails this test.
Although I voted against the National Policy Statement on Monday 25th June, the motion was passed by 415 votes to 119.
The Lords Amendments to the EU withdrawal Bill came back to the Commons this month. I have consistently said that our future relationship with the EU must put jobs and the economy first and must therefore maintain the benefits of the Single Market. This is a firm test that I am committed to holding the Government's Brexit deal against in the future when it comes before Parliament for approval. If the Government's Brexit deal does not meet this test I will vote against it.
Unfortunately, two years on from the referendum, it is clear the Government has no plan for how it will protect jobs, standards, rights and the economy. It is for this reason that I voted in favour of the Lords Amendments including Amendment 51 to stay in the EEA. I believe that staying in the EEA will provide the best opportunity for a close future relationship with the EU and further ensure that Brexit does not lead to a race to the bottom on rights or to new barriers for UK businesses. As the frontbench position was to abstain, I have resigned from my role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary. Please see my resignation letter below for my reasons.
I also supported an amendment that would have put the negotiation of a customs union with the EU back on the negotiating table as a key objective and an amendment that would have enshrined in law the commitment to preventing a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Finally, I have long believed that Parliament must be given a meaningful vote on the final terms of our exit from the EU. This is why I voted for a successful Amendment to the Bill in the Commons last December to require that the Government's proposed withdrawal deal be approved by Parliament. This month, I also voted to retain an Amendment made in the House of Lords that strengthens the terms of this meaningful vote. This will make clear that, should the Government's proposed withdrawal deal be defeated, it is for Parliament to say what happens next not the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, this Amendment was not passed.
Yesterday I held a debate in Parliament on the voter ID pilot which took place in the May local Government elections across five Boroughs, including Bromley which part of my constituency covers. The pilot required voters to present identification before casting their ballot and is part of a programme to prevent impersonation at polling stations. Impersonation is a type of fraud whereby someone votes at a polling station pretending to be someone else.
The Government have hailed the pilot as a success which demonstrates that a voter ID scheme is “a reasonable and proportionate measure to take”. However, I believe these are the most disproportionate and ill-thought changes to our electoral system in recent years and proposals to roll the scheme out nationally should be scrapped immediately.
Electoral fraud is a serious crime and every allegation needs to be investigated fully. However, the proposals outlined by the Government are clearly disproportionate. Data from the Electoral Commission shows that in 2015 there were just 26 allegations of fraud based on impersonation, amounting to 0.000051% of overall votes cast and in 2017 there were just 28 allegations with one prosecution amounting to 0.000063% of overall votes cast.
It is also virtually impossible for voter impersonation to affect an election result on any large scale. It is only possible to ‘steal’ one vote through impersonation. Therefore, to effectively influence an election would require a professional campaign coordinating thousands of fraudsters, the nature of such a campaign would make it easily identifiable.
In addition, the introduction of the scheme would make no difference to allegations of fraud with postal votes, proxy votes, breaches of secrecy, tampering with ballot papers, bribery, undue influence, or electoral expenditure. Therefore, Voter ID would do little to prevent determined fraudsters from acting.
As such it would seem this is a solution in search of a problem. On top of this the Cabinet Office previously claimed the trial was deemed necessary “after reports of alleged electoral fraud through voter impersonation more than doubled between 2014 and 2016”, citing Electoral Commission data.
However, shortly after this, the UK Statistics Authority condemned this statement as misleading the public. Although the number of alleged cases of impersonation rose from 21 to 44 from 2014 to 2016, the total number of votes cast rose from 29 million to 64 million. The number of cases subsequently dropped to 28 in 2017.
The main issue is the extent to which this scheme would disenfranchise a vast swathe of the electorate. The Equality and Human Rights Commission have previously warned the Government that voter ID would have a disproportionate impact on voters with protected characteristics, particularly ethnic minority communities, older people, trans people, and people with disabilities.
Interestingly, none of the five Boroughs in the trial had a significantly poorer or ethnically diverse population than the national average, which to my mind puts in question the validity of the trial. Furthermore, evidence from the USA (which has strict voter ID rules) has shown that the scheme disproportionately affects marginalised groups because those who can’t afford to drive or go on holiday don’t spend to get the required ID.
In response to these points, the Minister for the Constitution made the case that the pilot had been a success commenting that only 340 people were unable to vote. However, this is a figure 12 times greater than the national number of voter fraud allegations in 2017. If this figure was scaled nationally it would represent a significant percentage of the population being denied their vote.
This is particularly salient considering the recent Windrush scandal, which has shown that even those who are both legitimate citizens and voters have struggled to access services which they are entitled to. Further expansion of these voter ID schemes could see the Windrush generation also denied their democratic rights adding further insult to injury.
There is no doubt that citizens were denied votes in the trial and there is no doubt that voters were put off; disproportionately so in comparison to previous reports of voter fraud. How can this flagrant disregard for disenfranchising voters be regarded as a success especially when we are celebrating the centenary of some women gaining the right to vote?
The Minister further went on to make the case that electoral fraud is not a victimless crime and that the impact of the crime on voters means taking away the victims right to vote as they want. Whilst I have no dispute with this statement and believe that appropriate measures should be taken to mitigate electoral fraud I return to the evidence from the trial that more people were denied their right to vote than people who had their vote stolen nationally in 2017.
The 2017 figure that 0.000063% of overall votes cast were allegedly fraudulent is set against data that shows 7.5% of the electorate do not hold any photographic ID. This would mean those at risk from disenfranchisement outweighs allegations of voter fraud by a factor of over 119,000. I have previously used the analogy of a sledgehammer to crack a nut but I am no longer confident that it is a sufficient metaphor to describe the utterly disproportionate methods we have seen trialled this year.
Concluding the debate the Minister for the Constitution stated that “this really is a simple matter of principle: do we or do we not believe in stamping out electoral fraud?” There is no doubt that electoral fraud must be combatted, but it remains, the problem is almost non-existent. However, if disenfranchising segments of the electorate is a ‘matter of principle’, then this shines an interesting light on the Government’s view of who should and should not be allowed to vote.
The feedback and statistics from the pilot suggest that preventing people from voting in this way will have a far bigger impact on election results than current alleged fraud does. A concern which has been echoed by the Electoral Reform Society who state the measures may potentially indicate an attempt by the Government to deter some citizens from voting.
This alongside the UK Statistics authority condemnation of the Government for misleading the public gives weight to the argument that they are pursuing this scheme to alter the course of future elections through voter suppression as opposed to trying to prevent a crime which is far from rife in our society.
All of this leads me to believe that instead of being a 'practical policy' the Government's Voter ID scheme is better represented as 'political tactics' to disenfranchise voters.
The Justice Committee this morning published the ‘Small claims limit for personal injury’ Report which makes very clear criticism of the Government’s Civil Liability Bill currently making its way through the House of Lords.
The Report makes strident criticism of the Bill and concludes that:
• The Government should not proceed with it’s plans to increase small claims limit to £5000 for road traffic accidents and £2000 for employer’s liability and public liability claims.
• Small claims limits should only rise in line with inflation since 1999 to £1500. The Government have not set out a compelling case for a further increase and the Committee is extremely concerned this could impede access to justice.
• Proposed online claim systems should not be extended to employer’s liability and public liability cases due to their complex nature.
The Civil Liability Bill which, on the face of it seeks to tackle the issue of an increase in the number of whiplash claims in the UK, will actually take away the right to free legal advice from hundreds of thousands of people injured at work or on the roads every year whose claims have nothing to do with whiplash.
Currently, anyone in England and Wales who are injured in a workplace accident or on the road and whose injuries are worth more than £1,000 can claim back the cost of getting legal help to advise them on a possible claim. The rationale for injured people having their legal help funded by the guilty party is that the relationship between the injured and the defendant is ‘asymmetrical’; it isn’t one of equals. On the one hand, you have an injured person who has (hopefully for them) never made a claim before and on the other a well-funded insurer who knows the ropes.
The hidden agenda behind the Bill is for the Government to use powers that aren’t on the face of the Bill to increase the small claims limit by 400% from £1,000 to £5,000 for all road traffic accident cases and by 100% from £1,000 to £2,000 for all other cases, including accidents at work. Those powers lie completely outside of Parliament’s usual procedures for scrutinising changes to statutory rules and regulations.
£2,000 is a lot of money for most workers, let alone £5,000, yet the Government think it’s OK to leave people injured through no fault of their own to fight well-funded insurers by themselves. The Justice Committees Report begs to differ.
It is revealing that in Scotland the decision was made in 2014 to exclude personal injury claims from their equivalent of the small claims track altogether precisely because of concerns about inequality of arms between the parties. Noticeably Lord Keen of Elie QC Advocate General for Scotland who is steering the Bill through the Lords for the Government failed to answer direct questions on the Scottish exception that came from, amongst others, Baroness Berridge on his own backbench.
It is estimated that up to a million people every year would be left on their own and trade union legal services, which provide an important route to redressing wrongs for injured members, will be undermined if the Bill goes ahead. From the person injured at work who could have lost several months’ pay to cyclists, pedestrians and even children, the injured will be left to fight a legal battle they don’t understand, and financially cannot afford, against those who do and can.
The government is claiming the Bill will reduce ‘fraudulent’ claims. However, there is no independent evidence of a problem of fraud from people injured on the roads – in fact, the only statistics on fraud come from the insurers themselves. If there really was a problem with fraud why do insurers concede that they paid out in 99% of all road traffic claims last year? I simply don’t buy the weak line proffered by insurers (and parroted by the Government in the Bill’s Impact Assessment) that they must pay out because it would be un-economic to fight fraudulent claims.
The way society deals with those who break the law (in this case alleged fraud) is to prosecute and punish. This Bill doesn’t stop fraud, it allows potential fraudsters to continue whilst taking away free legal advice and introducing lower compensation for those who are law abiding.
Additionally, what have people injured at work who will be hugely affected by this got to do with fraud? The answer is nothing, as neither the Government nor the insurance industry suggests there is any problem with fraud by people injured at work.
The Government isn’t making a lot of noise about the admission in the Bill’s impact assessment that the changes will take £6m every year from the NHS and £140m every year from the taxpayer, while generously providing an extra £1.3 billion profit every year to the insurers.
The ‘sweetener’ the government is keen to talk about is premium savings for motorists. The ‘savings’ have fluctuated, first they were £50, then they were ‘about £40’ and in the latest Queen’s Speech they were ‘about £35’.
Interestingly we have been here before – insurers made promises to reduce premiums in 2012 when the Government delivered on changes the insurers lobbied for - and since then (on the Association British Insurers’ own figures) claims costs have fallen by 42%, the insurers have saved over £11 billion yet motor insurance premiums are higher now than ever (along with record profits and CEO salaries).
Insurers cannot be trusted to pass on savings to motorists. They have broken previous similar promises and the Government has gone on record in connection with this Bill to say that they won’t force insurers to do so.
The Justice Committee Report expresses deep misgivings about where the Government is going with this Bill. To me this appears to be a stitch-up between the insurers and Government, ramping up fears of a “compensation culture” in whiplash injuries to distract people from the Government’s true intentions: to attack access to justice for all injured people, including workers and to pass billions onto the insurance industry.