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.