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Damages for whiplash injuries

Part of Civil Liability Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 23rd October 2018.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham 4:30 pm, 23rd October 2018

No, I do not. First, in any event, as the hon. Lady knows, if the person’s claim extends beyond £5,000, it will go on to the fast track, so they will be entitled to get that cost. Secondly, the concern that a number of solicitors raise about this is to say, “The really difficult thing that you need to claim—the thing that is hard sometimes to prove—is the general damages element.” That is why they have become so indignant about it. In fact, the special damages claim is rather easier to quantify, and I do not think that people would, in effect, be frozen out of justice. Thirdly—if this aspect of the Bill had not been changed, I think I would be opposing it—for the really difficult claims where, for example, somebody has been injured at work and faces, as I accept entirely, the added burden of having to take on their employer, the threshold does not apply in the same way. It is absolutely right that the Government have moved on that to ensure that anything above £2,000 means that people go on to the fast track.

On the hon. Lady’s specific point about the tariff, is it right to say that this is an egregious departure from anything that we have known before in English law? That is putting it far too high. My hon. Friend the Minister has already indicated that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority sets that principle in any event. Furthermore, it is a principle adopted in plenty of other countries that are signatories to the European convention on human rights, Italy for one.

It is also worth stepping back to consider the criminal law. Before the Sentencing Guidelines Council, as it was then called, started to set its guidelines in terms of tariffs for criminal penalties, there was a concern that it would be intruding on the discretion of the courts, but in fact it has worked very well. Defendants, lawyers and judges have really welcomed the guidelines, which set clearer tariffs, because that provides a degree of clarity. Of course, it is not a direct equivalent because judges still retain some discretion within the guidelines, but it does make the point that completely open-ended discretion does not exist everywhere throughout the legal system.

There are other mitigating factors that allow me, and people like me, to conclude that these are fair and proportionate proposals. First and most important is the exceptional circumstances uplift. Clause 5(1) says:

“Regulations made by the Lord Chancellor may provide for a court—

(a) to determine that the amount of damages payable for pain, suffering and loss of amenity in respect of one or more whiplash injuries is an amount greater than the tariff amount relating to that injury”.

In other words, there is a safety net in circumstances where the law would otherwise do an injustice. That is really important and ought to give a lot of comfort to Opposition Members who might otherwise be concerned. The second reason I feel comforted is that the tariffs are clearly going to have the engagement and input of the judges. That is why Lord Brown concluded that there was nothing wrong in principle with a tariff system.

There are of course things that have to be got right. It is critically important that any savings that are derived from this are truly passed on to motorists. I want to ensure that constituents in Cheltenham do receive the benefits of this. We need to ensure that young people who are setting out on their careers and need their car for work, for whom every last £10 is critically important, will be receiving these benefits. If they do, then my clear view is that these principles are sensible, proportionate and calibrated, and have a safety net. Even though—I probably ought to have declared this at the beginning, Madam Deputy Speaker—my wife is a personal injury lawyer, I feel confident that I can take on the domestic dispute just as I have taken on Opposition Members in this House.