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Damages for whiplash injuries

Part of Civil Liability Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 23rd October 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 3:45 pm, 23rd October 2018

There is an element of semantics going on here. We have guidelines at the moment. Judges do not pluck figures out of thin air. They look at the guidelines and hear submissions, or they would have heard submissions when representation was available—it seems it no longer will be—and they make a decision, but they have discretion around the individual circumstances of the case. That is a basic and fundamental principle of law, but one that we are deviating from. I cannot say strongly enough that that is wrong.

To add insult to injury—if I may put it that way—rather than taking the average in the guidelines and having a rough rule of thumb that someone will get a bit more or a bit less than their individual case deserves, or going for an average and calling that a tariff, we are saying that a tariff should be a tiny percentage of the current award. This is nothing but an attempt to say, “We do not wish to pay out money in this way. We wish to diminish both the ability to make a claim and the compensation paid.” Whatever one’s view on fraud, the massive majority of cases will be meritorious and honest cases in which people have genuinely suffered injury.

I will conclude with the words of the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge, on Report in the other place:

“What I cannot accept is a solution which means that a dishonest claim is handled in exactly the same way as an honest one. We cannot have dishonesty informing the way in which those who have suffered genuine injuries are dealt with. That is simply not justice. There should not be any idea that an honest claim for a whiplash injury made by the victim of a car accident should be less well compensated than an identical injury suffered by someone at work.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 June 2018;
Vol. 791, c. 1600.]

That is what the Government are doing in the Bill and what is so inherently unfair, and they are doing it at the behest of special interests. They may genuinely believe that there is a problem to be resolved with whiplash. I could dispute that—we could go on for a lot longer than we are today—but even if they are right, there are other, better and fairer ways to tackle that issue.