THE GOVERNMENT is pressing ahead with plans to introduce pre-action protocols to encourage the early settlement of personal injury claims, despite solicitors' warnings that the project is flawed.
Last week Geoff Hoon, the parliamentary secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD), unveiled two draft pre-action protocols for personal injury and medical negligence claims.
The protocols set out time limits for the disclosure of documents and communications between the two parties in dispute.
A pilot for personal injury cases has been operating among nine personal injury firms and six insurers since October.
The LCD intends to stop the pilot in August, publish the final draft of the protocols in January and launch the protocols in April, together with the rest of Lord Woolf's civil justice reforms.
But the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil) has called for an extension to the pilot, claiming it has revealed "logistical difficulties" which prove the system will not work unless effective sanctions are put in place.
Apil vice-president Frances McCarthy warned that, although it welcomes the introduction of protocols, "several key insurers have not yet become involved in the pilot and this could cause glitches when the system is introduced".
Apil executive member Nigel Tomkins said the scheme was a "waste of time" without "proper sanctions".
Under the draft protocols, courts have a discretionary power to penalise non-complying parties when awarding or disallowing costs or by refusing to grant time extensions.
Firms participating in the pilot have been fiercely critical of the scheme, claiming insurance company employees participating in the pilot knew little about the scheme and refused to co-operate.
Hoon said the government had published the drafts a month before the pilot was due to finish and before the pilots could be evaluated to "assist practitioners in their preparations for implementation".
He said: "The attraction of these protocols is that everyone benefits - the clients, the legal advisers, the insurers, the NHS, healthcare professionals and the courts."
Hoon added that two other protocols, covering road traffic accidents and the use of experts, are being developed, with more expected to follow.