The Government is seeking to extend the scope of fixed fees solicitors can claim in straightforward road traffic accident cases where liability is admitted. The RTA Portal, which limits solicitors fees in cases up to a value of £10,000, has been running for some two and a half years and now, buoyed by pressure from the ABI and Defendant lobby, the government now seeks to extend the scheme to cover cases up to a value of £25,000 and to include Employers Liability and Public liability cases.
After months of prevarication, delay and general fudge the Government has this week issued proposed fixed fees for the new regime including revised fees for cases up to £10,000 of as little as £500, requesting representations on the proposals by January 4th. The government has sought to justify the paltry new fee levels by claiming they reflect the fact that solicitors will no longer have to pay referral fees to work providers once such fees are banned in April next year. Needless to say Claimant’s solicitors feel somewhat aggrieved – referral fees were never in the government’s contemplation when the fixed fees were first set on the Portal in April 2010, so why use those fees as an excuse to slash fixed fees now? How are we supposed to run a case for a client, efficiently and profitably, on five hundred quid?
The changes have been proposed without adequate consultation and have left precious little time for solicitors to adapt their business models to accommodate the changes, so will the government’s crusade to reduce solicitors’ costs come back to bite them? Only time will tell. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) have issued a letter before action to the Ministry of Justice through solicitors with a view to launching a judicial review of the government’s proposals, and in particular the lack of any meaningful consultation on the numbers. But as we’ve seen in the news recently in relation to planning applications, the government doesn’t much like judicial reviews , and APIL may yet find they’re careering headlong into an impregnable brick wall.
The government continues to chant the mantra of ‘difficult decisions’ to negotiate in straitened economic times, but should anti–austerity measures and the economic health of big business always trump the civil rights of the individual, and are we now witnessing the slow demise of true ‘access to justice’?