Whiplash reforms and driverless cars technology to fall

Following Wednesday's vote to call a General Election for 8 June 2017, it appears unlikely that the whiplash reforms (contained in the Prisons and Court Bill) and the driverless cars legislation (contained within the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill) will proceed through this parliament.

What we know

Parliament is required to be dissolved no later than the 25th working day before polling day – which places the deadline for dissolution at Wednesday 3 May 2017.

The Queen’s Speech, previously speculated to take place on 17 May 2017, will not now take place. It will be for the new government after the General Election to set out their legislative programme in a Queen’s Speech on a date to be confirmed.

Bills that are already near completion, or deemed critical - such as the Finance Bill – can get rushed through parliament and made into law in a process known as the “wash-up” period. Put simply, the government and opposition parties work together to speed the legislation process up in time for the parliamentary period.

However, bills that have been recently introduced or are at the early stages of scrutiny will fall. The next government will then have to decide if it wants to reintroduce those fallen bills as they currently stand and if so, reintroduce them as new bills in the next parliament.

For the avoidance of doubt, whilst consultations should not be launched during the pre-election period (except in essential circumstances), a consultation that is ongoing at the time of dissolution, should continue as normal.

The personal injury discount rate consultation therefore remains live and is due to close on 11 May 2017.

Whiplash reforms

The background to the whiplash reforms is extensive. The latest round of reform (as advanced by part one of the government’s “whiplash” response) was unveiled on 23 February 2017: the Prisons and Courts Bill would cover compensation (including introduction of a fixed-tariff system). Secondary legislation would bring forward measures to increase the small claims limit for RTA-related claims to £5,000 (and to £2,000 for all other types of injury claim). The intention was confirmed to implement the reforms as a package, with part two of the response (including implementing the Fraud Taskforce’s recommendations) to follow.

The definition of whiplash as drafted in the Bill quickly raised concerns and an inquiry by the Justice Committee ensued – closing last month. Understanding the rationale behind the definition, together with avoiding unintended consequences, was an industry-shared objective.

Autonomous vehicles

Having confirmed its intention to bring forward its “pathway to driverless cars” proposals on 6 January 2017, the government presented the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill to the House of Commons on 22 February 2017. The Bill went through committee stage on 23 March. Report stage is yet to be announced.

The Bill, which extends the application of existing motor insurance to cover both manual and automated driving, forms a valuable plank in setting the regulatory framework to enable the next wave of transport technology to be invented, designed, made and used in the UK. The Bill will also provide an opportunity to improve efficiencies, processes and protection for the travelling public and businesses.

No guarantees

The opinion polls suggest that Theresa May and the Conservatives will receive an increased majority. However, a new Conservative government does not guarantee continuity, either in terms of policy or personnel. As a result, the Conservative Party manifesto will be a critical indicator of how the next government might pursue whiplash reforms and autonomous vehicles legislation.

From a procedural point of view, we expect the two Bills to fall, as neither are far enough along the parliamentary process to warrant rushing through in the end of parliament “wash-up” period. That will almost certainly include the secondary legislation required for changing the small claims track – such a measure is unlikely to be a priority.

Therefore, a continued path to whiplash reform is unclear following the 8 June election. A new manifesto and a new government will provide an opportunity to rethink those proposals, having better considered industry feedback.

By contrast, this government has made clear its support for autonomous vehicles. There is a known desire to put the UK at the forefront of emerging technologies – especially if it can support the message that the UK is open for business post-Brexit. Ongoing support can therefore be expected in the next parliament.

Taking an opportunity to harmonise reform should be encouraged. Any changes to domestic legislation (if that is what is decided) must dovetail with the UK’s desire to be at the forefront of emerging technologies, and a secure post Brexit environment for insurers to conduct business–and to demonstrate the UK’s capability for innovation and policy leadership.

Regardless of the life cycle of these pieces of legislation, Kennedys remains engaged on these issues during the election cycle.

Related items:

Civil justice landscape: “interesting times”

Kennedys calls upon government for greater direction on autonomous cars