Thursday 19 July 2012 by John Hyde
The government this week rejected calls to tear up its timetable for boosting the role of the RTA portal for low-value claims - despite a call by its own expert adviser for a pause.
In a long-awaited report published on the day before parliament's summer recess, Professor Paul Fenn of Nottingham University (pictured) said any extension to the portal scheme should happen only after a full assessment of the small-claims process has been carried out next year.
He also stated that government plans to extend the portal to public liability and employers' liability cases would have a minimal effect on claims, as a majority of such claims are contested. Fenn also concluded that the RTA portal has reduced average damages awards by 6% since its launch in 2010.
Despite the note of caution, the government this week reiterated its desire to include employers' and public liability in the scheme, and to increase the maximum value of cases from £10,000 to £25,000. A spokeswoman said: 'The government is intending to expand the scope of the current scheme next April.'
Fenn recommended that the current RTA process and the Fixed Recoverable Costs Scheme be jointly reviewed after another year, when more data is available. Any assessment of the portal should also take into account the effect of the ban on referral fees, set to come into force by next April.
'Once an integrated system of fixed costs is in place for all low-value, non-litigated RTA claims, it could in principle be extended to other types and values of claim,' Fenn proposed.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said Fenn's finding that damages had fallen was a 'great disappointment'. Chief executive Deborah Evans said: 'In light of Professor Fenn's recommendation for a further review of the current scheme, the government must now stop and think rather than extend the portal in haste.'
Tom Jones, head of policy and public affairs at personal injury firm Thompsons Solicitors, said the government seemed 'hell-bent' on extending the portal in spite of Fenn's findings.
'Now we know why the government has sat on Professor Fenn's research,' he added. 'The work shows there is no justification for extending the RTA claims process to higher value claims or to employer and public liability claims.'
The Ministry of Justice said the Fenn report provided 'important groundwork' as it looked to expand the fixed-costs scheme.