A coalition of leading claimant solicitors, charities and others in the personal injury market have come together to fight the government’s whiplash reforms – and is calling on the 2,700 PI firms in England and Wales to back the cause.
The group is a more organised successor to the Access to Justice Action Group that fought against the 2013 LASPO reforms, and is promising a “properly funded, co-ordinated and directed strategic campaign”.
Operating under the name Access to Justice (A2J), the group is headed by Martin Coyne, managing partner of Manchester firm Ralli; Andrew Twambley, senior partner of Amelans and co-founder of Injury Lawyers 4U; and Matthew Maxwell Scott, who leads on government relations at Slater & Gordon.
Among the other well-known law firms that have publicly pledged their support are 2020 Legal, Express Solicitors, Hilary Meredith, Jefferies, JMW, Michael W Halsall, Scott Rees & Co, Thorneycroft and True. Minster Law is providing PR support.
Other backers include charities BASIC and Brain Injury is Big, accident management company AAH Direct, after-the-event insurance company Financial & Legal, asset protectors Frenkel Topping, Lawyers Against Fraud, and medical reporting organisation Speed Medical.
Mr Coyne said A2J was in close contact and working with the so-called Strategic Alliance of the Law Society, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, and Motor Accident Solicitors Society – as well as trade union firm Thompsons, which to date has been the only claimant voice taking the fight to insurers with its ‘Small claims, Big impact’ campaign.
He said: “The only limitation with the Strategic Alliance is that it is not able to receive funding from non-member organisations. Access to Justice fills the finance gap perfectly by taking donations from non-legal organisations and putting them to good use.”
To date A2J – which is a company limited by guarantee – has received donations from more than 70 organisations, but Mr Coyne said he was calling on the 2,777 PI law firms in England and Wales to donate at least £1,000 to help build its warchest.
“I genuinely believe that we can change ministers’ minds on this. We have the data, the organisation and the unity of purpose. We know the whole case for change, encouraged by insurers, is predicated on myth and distortion. We just need to prove it.”
Mr Coyne said A2J strongly supported action to clamp down on cold calling, tougher regulation of claims management companies, and action on fraud.
However, research A2J has commissioned from Capital Economics, Mr Coyne said, has proven “what many of us have long believed: the data presented by the insurance industry over the years is corrupt. But, by ceaseless repetition, this dodgy data has been accepted as fact by many people – including, I’m sad to say, government ministers”.
Mr Coyne insisted that fraud has not had the impact on premiums that insurers claim. Rising premium levels were “because they have put their prices up to make a bigger underwriting profit, pure and simple”.
He said the group would also highlight the potentially ruinous effect on jobs the reforms would have, particularly in the north-west of England, at a time when the government was pushing the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
The market is still waiting for the Ministry of Justice consultation on raising the small claims limit for PI to £5,000, and stopping claims for general damages in ‘minor’ whiplash cases.
The consultation had been expected before Easter, but it may now be published next month in the short period after the local elections and before the government goes back into lockdown – or purdah – ahead of the EU referendum.
It is thought that the current plan is to get both measures in place for October 2017, but the general damages change will require primary legislation and will put pressure on the timetable.
Former Labour MP Andrew Dismore – currently a member of the London Assembly – headed the Access to Justice Action Group in 2013 and is a consultant this time. The other main mover behind AJAG three years ago, Andy Wigmore, is now head of communications for Brexit group Leave.EU, and also holds a diplomatic position promoting trade and investment into Belize.