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Judges 'dismayed' by government's whiplash proposals, say it will clog up courts

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Whiplash reforms could cause the courts to become gridlocked with unrepresented personal injury victims and lead to higher taxes, judges have warned.

In its response to the government's whiplash consultation, judges on the Civil Executive Team said that the absence of legal skill in case preparation and presentation would place "considerable stresses" on court staff, in a court estate which is at the same time being "drastically shrunk".

"The greater average time needed for the resolution of each case will mean that there will be an increase in the judicial and court staff work needed for each court fee paid, thereby reducing the substantial current profitability of the civil courts," the team's response said.

"A net reduction in the number of claims issued will also reduce court fee income from civil claims, which props up the court system as a whole.

"It is understood that a powerful influence behind the current proposals derives from the assertion by insurers that they are having to fund PI litigation at an excessive rate, with adverse consequences for premium rates paid mainly for motor insurance.

"But the consequence of removing fixed recoverable costs as a central element in the current structure may well be that the taxpayer ends up having to fill the gap, because of the increased burdens on the court service and judiciary."

The response went on to add that the consultation raised "serious" access to justice issues for those with genuine but modest personal injury claims, potentially causing claimants to be self-represented when bringing claims against parties backed by insurers "who are able to engage the services of experienced lawyers".

The response added: "It must be said at the outset that there is a serious level of dismay that a proposal with such serious potential implications for the management and delivery of civil justice has not been made the subject of discussion with the judiciary before being launched as a public consultation and that, once launched, the consultation period had been both very short, and laid partly over a holiday period.

"The CET has been asked to emphasise by many of the designated civil judges who have been hurriedly consulted how inadequate has been the time for the presentation of any statistically based and fully researched responses about the implications for the courts' workload."

The insurance industry's reaction, in contrast, was broadly positive towards the government's proposals, saying that the reforms would help tackle spurious personal injury claims and lower premiums for honest customers.

The Association of British Insurers said that it backs the government plans for a "more proportionate" approach to dealing with minor whiplash-related personal injury claims, saying that reforms will help reduce insurance premiums for honest motorists and help to tackle compensation culture.

The trade body said that insurers have passed on £1.2bn of savings to customers in lower premiums in recent years as a result of government reforms.

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