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Legal industry divided over government’s RTA Portal changes

August 7, 2012

With the Ministry of Justice still adamant about introducing changes to the RTA Portal extension next April, it appears that there has been some division in the legal industry over the feasibility of the April changes and their advisability.

Part of the controversy relates to the late publication of the Fenn report by Professor Fenn, which has advised that any extension should be delayed until an industry wide process of consultation has been conducted.

The Fenn report also focused on the large number of claims that fell through before completion, arguing that this was a concern, considering the government’s intention to keep the existing fixed cost scheme.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) president, Deborah Evans, has said that she would like to see the changes being postponed until October 2013 at least and preferably to April 2014 to allow further review of the proposed extensions, as Professor Fenn had suggested.

She said that one result of the RTA Portal process that had already been experienced was that the value of damages awarded had dropped significantly and that this was not the intention of the original set up. She said that the intention had been to streamline the processing of claims, while maintaining the value of damages to what had been considered sufficient beforehand.

She also said that the proposal to extend the Portal to employment liability (EL) and personal liability (PL) cases was liable to lead to a greater exit rate than had been experienced with personal injury cases, as the latter were generally more straightforward.

The call for a postponement to the introduction of the extensions was also supported by the Motor Accident Solicitors’ Society, although its President, Craig Budsworth, was doubtful whether the government would heed the call. Mr Budsworth was critical of the fact that 50% of the personal injury cases were falling out before completion and thought that the extension of the portal to PL and EL cases by the MoJ’s proposed deadline date was going to be very challenging considering the complexity of these cases and the short time needed to set up the process.

Other industry experts were less critical of the April 2013 extensions. The Forum of Insurance Lawyers President, Don Clarke, while supporting the Fenn report’s proposed review, said that the whole process had been delayed long enough and there was no reason why it should be postponed any further.

Another concern that APIL had with the RTA portal changes was with the raising of the personal injury limit to £5000 from the present limit of £1000. Ms Evans said that the changes together with the increased exit rate expected from the portal changes meant that legitimate personal injury claimants would be dealt a “double blow”.

APIL has called on the government to cancel its intention to raise the small claims threshold and is asking the government to show some clarity on the issue, as it seems to have left the whole matter in abeyance while it has gone into summer recess.