Access to Justice: Learning from long term experiences in the personal injury legal services market – July 2014

Sector: Justice and Legal Affairs | Legal reform
Client: Legal Services Board
Published: 23 July, 2014
Document type: Report 
Tagged: England market studies qualitative analysis quantitative analysis stakeholder surveys and consultations Wales

A key objective of the Legal Services Board is to help improve access to justice by creating the conditions that allow individuals to take up legal services when they are in need of them. To this end, the present research sought to understand attributes of the market for legal services relating to Personal Injury to determine whether any lessons can be drawn and applied to other legal services market segments.

The investigation involved analysis of this data, a review of relevant literature, speeches, and consultation responses, as well as the findings of a series of interviews with representatives from the Association of British Insurers, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Claims Management Regulator, Ministry of Justice, and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority.

The research confirmed that this is an area where there are a range of strongly held but often conflicting views, which tend to crowd out discussion of one of the key issues, which is the lack of objective data on longer term changes. This is reflected in Lord Justice Jackson’s Review of Civil Litigation Costs. This also makes learning from past regulatory and legislative intervention more challenging. Based on the stakeholder interviews, the research team put forward a series of hypotheses about the possible impacts of each legislative and regulatory change and then came to tentative conclusions based on an assessment of available information.

Clearly there have been significant changes in the supply side over the 1999-2013 period. Further, in analysing historical data from the DWP Compensation Recovery Unit, the research highlights the growth in the number of motor claims as the source of the growth in the overall volume of personal injury claims.

However based on what data there is, the analysis suggests that the significant legislative and regulatory changes during the period in question have had little impact on access to justice as defined from the consumer perspective. Using CSJS survey data, there have been no significant changes in the way consumers respond to personal injury problems over the 1999-2012 period, with similar proportions seeking advice, handling alone, or doing nothing in response to personal injury legal problems. Had these changes been designed solely to improve access to justice, this lack of change in consumer behaviour brings into question the effectiveness of the regulatory and legislative interventions concerned.

Looking at what can be learned from this market segment, this analysis shows that a model that allows consumers free-at-the-point-of-use legal services is effective at increasing access to justice, because it completely removes the financial risk to consumers of making a claim. The researchers conclude that the lesson is that a continuing focus on value for money for individuals is essential to support access to justice.

The investigation highlights the need for government to continue to balance competing objectives in public policy decision making, making it easy to enforce rights to compensation but minimising the risk of fraudulent or spurious claims.

The research also underlines the need for regulators to better understand the legal services market if they are to ensure the effectiveness of legal services regulation in achieving its desired outcomes, provide confidence to the public in the profession they regulate, and demonstrate the overall value of their interventions and the associated costs.