My last blog talked about the massive cuts announced by the Ministry of Justice in the fees Insurers have to pay to victims of motor accidents for legal costs. I commented that the government only seems to hear the arguments of its friends in the insurance industry.
In the High court yesterday we saw just how close they are.
This was the Judicial Review action brought by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) and the Motor Accidents Solicitors Society (MASS) contesting the way the decision was reached and seeking to have it set aside. I should say right at the start that the action failed. More of that in a minute.
But what was alarming was just how closely the government and insurers have worked together. A ‘summit meeting’ took place in
Downing Street in February 2012. Nobody representing the
interests and concerns of victims was invited. But what came out of the court
hearing was that there had been close communications between them before that
meeting. Paul Nicholls QC for APIL referred the court to a series of emails
including one which said – ‘This looks good I think we’re getting close.’
The basis of the court action was that these secret communications made a nonsense of any so called consultation. The court found that there was in fact no legal duty on the government to consult in the matter. Lord Justice Elias said that this was really a political rather than legal matter and that the correct road for redress is via the ballot box.
So although there is no effective legal challenge we now know how just how close this friendship is between government and the insurance industry whose main duty is to its shareholders and for whom access to justice is of no concern. These are the very insurers who want to take over the whole injury claims process and exclude lawyers.
What is clear is that those who represent victims will not lie down. In many ways the battle starts now. There will be an Appeal which is unlikely to succeed. But as Elias LJ says this is a political matter and that is where the argument should go, especially over the next two years as we head towards an election. Two years to put justice on the agenda and to remove a government which has apparently washed its hands of any concern for victims for the sake of enhancing insurers profits.