Personal Injury Brief market insights - June 2021

A summary of key developments including the HMCTS court reform programme, the Northern Ireland personal injury discount rate, key CPR changes and practice direction updates, consultation on increasing the county court’s jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, and a political landscape roundup. 

Political landscape roundup

It has been an incredibly busy time in the world of UK politics, with positive results for the Conservatives in the local elections and the Scottish National Party falling one seat short of winning an overall majority in the Scottish elections, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledging to hold an independence referendum once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, which is only five months away. Meanwhile, the Queen’s Speech - marking the State Opening of Parliament and setting out the Government’s legislative agenda for the Parliamentary session ahead – was delivered on 11 May 2021. Key themes included the levelling up agenda, creating jobs and improving health.

Contact: Fiona Hamilton-Wood

Related item: The Queen's Speech 2021: at a glance

Summary of key CPR changes and practice direction updates

Various Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) changes, provided for in the Civil Procedure (Amendment No 3) Rules 2021, came into force on 27 May and 31 May 2021. The Ministry of Justice has also signed the 130th and 131st updates for practice direction amendments, which make amendments to: extending the online civil claims pilots by two years until 30 November 2023, the practice directions supplementing CPR 54 (judicial review); and the new Practice Direction 27B (as set out in the 129th practice direction update document) which relates to the “Whiplash reforms”.

Contact: Joanne Kelly

Northern Ireland’s dramatically lowered discount rate

On 25 March 2021, the Department of Justice announced it will change the personal injury discount rate, on an interim basis, from +2.5% to –1.75%. The new rate came into effect on 31 May 2021.

With the current discount rate in England and Wales being -0.25% and Scotland’s rate being -0.75%, Northern Ireland’s new rate of -1.75% is the lowest in the UK. Insurers should ensure that currently litigated and non-litigated claim reserves are carefully reviewed as soon as possible, and consideration may be given to defence accountancy evidence in some cases.

Contacts: Amanda Wylie and Frances Thompson

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HMCTS court reform programme

On 14 May 2021, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) provided an update on the court reform programme and offered a number of pledges by the end of 2021. HMCTS states that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that the most resilient services are those where investment has been made into digital options and new technology to facilitate alternative ways of working.

HMCTS has set up three Courts and Tribunals Service Centres in order to centralise administration allowing courts to focus on hearings. By the end of 2021, the service will have piloted opening Centres for longer hours and on Saturdays, opened a fourth Centre in Greater Manchester and expanded support to pilots of video hearings.

Digital support will be offered for a variety of online services, including Civil Money Claims and Universal Credit Appeals. Increased use of audio and video technology will also be available in a wide range of jurisdictions and also be accessible on Android and smartphone devices by the end of 2021.

Finally, the Scheduling and Listing Project will deliver a flexible system of digital tools and supporting processes to better support the judicial functions of scheduling and listing.

Contact: James Shrimpton

Increasing the County Court’s jurisdiction: wider reform needed to prevent courts becoming overwhelmed

In February, the Justice Minister for Northern Ireland launched a public consultation on increasing the general civil jurisdiction of the county courts.

In responding, we proposed that any increase in the civil jurisdiction of the country courts must be in conjunction with a number of commitments, including with regard to reform of pre-action protocols and better use of technology. Otherwise, the intended benefits of fairer and more efficient litigation would be undermined.

In terms of next steps, the responses will be taken into account in advising the Justice Minister. The Department of Justice has yet to give an indication as to the likely timetable for their response or further policy development.

Contacts: Amanda Wylie and Frances Thompson

Related item: Proposed reform of County Court civil jurisdiction in Northern Ireland – striking the right balance

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