Flawed methods threaten value of government's legal costs research02 October 2002
Attempts to reduce the cost pf personal injury litigation
Thompsons Solicitors, the UK's largest personal injury law firm, says research commissioned by the Civil Justice Council (CJC) into costs is fundamentally flawed.
As members of the CJC's consultation group into alternative costs models, known as the Big Tent, meet today, Thompsons is calling on Professor John Peysner, who heads the research project, to end the 'headlong rush to a conclusion already seemingly reached by those leading this project'.
The research has been commissioned by the CJC to establish whether fixed costs can reduce the cost of personal injury litigation.
Thompsons fears that insurance companies, who are being used as the data source for the project, will provide selective data in order to corroborate their currently unsubstantiated assertions of increased costs in personal injury cases. There is no provision for claimant firms to check that the data is accurate.
Similarly stats being provided by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers are bound to reflect claimant firms' own perceptions of whether costs are increasing. Two sets of competing data will not result in an accurate picture. Even if it does it won't address the underlying reasons for any increase or decrease in costs.
Rachel Sarfas, director of case management at Thompsons, says:'The research will not tell us whether costs are going up or down and even if it does that does not make a case for or against fixed costs. It also fails to address the key issue of why, if costs have increased, that has happened.'
Thompsons, the only PI firm to operate in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, says that substantially more cases in Northern Ireland, where a fixed costs regime already exists, have to be fought through the courts. Only 37% of cases run by Thompsons McClure in Belfast settle without court procedures starting, compared to approximately 60% in England and Wales. The trial figure in NI is 18%, as against just 5% in England and Wales.
The LCD's figures also show that the number of court procedures being issued, in all types of litigation, is down.
'If cases are not issued, insurers save on issuing fees, solicitor, counsel and court fees,' Rachel Sarfas says. 'This research must look at the insurance industry's spend on these. If this research is to serve any useful purpose we need to learn what works and what doesn't. We should improve the procedures that work well and remove those that add to costs but don't increase the likelihood of settlement. Potentially self-serving data will not do that.'
Notes to editors
Following the Costs Forum in November last year, the CJC set up a group called the Big Tent to look in detail at a practical way of taking costs issues forward.
Five working groups within the Big Tent are currently developing recoverable costs models. Thompsons Solicitors is represented on these.
A copy of the letter from Thompsons to John Peysner is available on request.
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