The Civil Liability Bill passed its Committee Stage earlier this month, and now awaits report, after the end of the 2018 Party Conference season. The government is intent on getting the Bill onto the Statute Books as soon as possible, before Brexit sucks Parliament in again later in the Autumn.

The committee of MPs scrutinised the Bill line by line. Rory Stewart MP (Con-Penrith and the Borders), and Minister of State for Justice, led for the government, while Gloria de Piero (Lab – Ashfield) spoke for Labour.

The Committee followed the expected path. Thanks to its inbuilt majority, the government was unlikely to lose any votes, and so it proved. The government confirmed that it is to make concessions on removing vulnerable road users (VRUs) from the scope of the reforms, including the proposed increase in the small claims limit, on the grounds that VRUs typically don’t get whiplash and don’t tend to submit fraudulent claims.

The devil is in the detail…

The detail behind the concession will become apparent in due course, most likely in Committee. Ministers also made clear their intention to implement a mechanism to ensure the insurers do hand back the claimed £35 savings to policyholders in the form of lower premiums. This will be delivered via an amendment in the Civil Liability Bill, but again we await the detail.

Campaigners are working hard to exert behind-the-scenes pressure on constituency MPs to bring about a change in the government’s direction of travel. In particular, to point out the inherent anomalies in access to justice for different classes of road user, and whether the injuries are workplace or public liability-related.

Looking ahead

It is unlikely the ABI and their allies will be satisfied with the status quo. If this Bill and the broader reform programme becomes law, they will simply press to move EL and PL to a £5K SCL, and maintain their demands for upward revisions to the discount rate and downward pressure on the minor RTA tariffs. There is no sense of what the impact of the reform programme will be on injured people, and their access to our justice system.

Key elements of the reforms (the SCL and the tariff numbers) are not encapsulated within the Civil Liability Bill and hence avoid parliamentary scrutiny, becoming instead Statutory Instruments or SIs (a form of ministerial decree which doesn’t require full parliamentary scrutiny). Labour is on to this, but the government has so far been reluctant to open these issues up to full debate.

Given consumers are impacted by both an increase in the small claims limit to £5,000 and dramatic reductions in the level of compensation our civil justice system has deemed appropriate for decades, it seems inappropriate that these aspects of the reform package are not fully debated in parliament.

Timing is everything

The timing for the introduction of the SIs is subject to speculation. The government could wait until there’s more certainty on the look and feel for the proposed portal (which is still struggling to gain the traction required to make material progress in its design) or will they press on and get the SIs into statute as quickly as possible and simply hope they can address the practical concerns in due course.

Whatever the Bill Committee decides, campaigners will continue to fight these proposals to the bitter end. At the very least, the government needs to ensure that the proposed portal for small claims, which the insurance industry has agreed to fund, does at least as good a job for injured people as lawyers achieve as part of the current system.