County Court Small Claims

This week, Lord Faulks confirmed that the Ministry of Justice will press ahead with plans which may deny access to justice for victims of negligence, by raising the County Court small claims track threshold to £5,000.00 for all personal injury cases.  George Osbourne revealed the plan late last year but since then no consultation has actually taken place.  It had been speculated that the plan would fail to materialise and may never happen.

However, the Justice Minister assured the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers that such a consultation will take place, after the country votes on whether or not to stay in the EU in June. 

How could this proposed increase erode access to justice?  Typically solicitors’ costs are not recoverable for small claims matters.  Imagine you receive a parking fine of £200 (despite having lawfully paid to park) and you decide (rightly) to challenge the fine.  You write to the parking company who insist that you pay the fine.  You are left no other option but to look to the Courts for a resolution to your dispute. 

Unless you represent yourself at Court, the cost of paying a lawyer to represent you at a small claim hearing could vastly exceed the £200, meaning it would be cheaper just to pay the fine, even though, in this example, you have been wrongly accused.  This is because the costs of paying for a lawyer in small claims matters are not recoverable from your opponent if you win; you would have to pay for the lawyer yourself and you would be out of pocket.  In a sense you have been ‘priced out’ of justice.

If the increase to a £5000.00 limit for personal injury cases goes ahead, unless you have had a significant injury i.e. worth over £5,000.00 such as a head injury, fracture, multiple injuries or symptoms lasting a few years, you may not be able to afford the legal costs.  This is because your legal costs would not be recoverable from your opponent if you win.  Whatever compensation you may be awarded would be used to pay your legal costs.  That seems neither right nor fair. 

The apparent logic behind the proposed increase was that by increasing the limit, spurious or even fraudulent would be weeded out, saving the insurance industry millions.  However, this could overlook genuine victims, who, once again, face being ‘priced out’ and denied access to justice.  Just because injuries are minor in nature (i.e. lasting a few days, weeks or months), or are actually quite serious but fall short of “£5000.00”, should not mean that those victims are denied access to justice.   

There is no magic solution to spurious or fraudulent claims.  However, there are already systems in place to minimise the risks such as thorough investigations by both Claimant and Defendant lawyers, ongoing risk assessments and the ‘Ask Cue’ website, which allows lawyers and insurers to work together, identify potential fraud and take appropriate action. 

If you have been the victim of negligence (such as a road traffic collision, a medical procedure that has gone wrong or an accident in the workplace or in public) that was not your fault, speak to Hutchinson Thomas Solicitors today for specialist legal advice.  Hutchinson Thomas is accredited by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.