Thompsons slams CJC for biased fixed costs study

Insurance companies accused of using 'selective data' to prove personal injury costs are on the rise

Claimant lawyers attacked the credibility of the Civil Justice Council's (CJC) research into a new regime of fixed costs last month and, in particular, its use of “self serving” research methods.

In a letter to John Peysner, who heads a committee on the CJC looking into alternative costs models, Thompsons Solicitors has called for a halt to a “headlong rush to a conclusion already seemingly reached by those leading this project”.

The CJC's 'Big Tent' group is expected to come up with a regime of 'predictable costs' (formerly known as fixed costs) by the end of this year.

Thompsons claims that insurance companies will provide “selective data in order to corroborate their currently unsubstantiated assertions of increased costs in personal injury cases”. Similarly, it points out that statistics being provided by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil) are “bound to reflect claimant firms' own perceptions of whether costs are increasing”.

Rachel Sarfas, director of case management at Thompsons, said: “The research will not tell us whether costs are going up or down, and even if it does, that doesn't 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.”

Sarfas pointed to her own firm's experience in Northern Ireland, where a fixed costs regime already exists. Only 37 per cent of cases run by Thompsons in Belfast settle without court procedures, compared with approximately 60 per cent in England and Wales. The trial figure in Northern Ireland is 18 per cent, compared with just 5 per cent in England and Wales.

Sarfas said: “If cases are not issued, insurers save on issuing solicitor, counsel and court fees.”

The Forum of Insurance Lawyers (Foil) was unimpressed by Thompsons' argument. “The tactics of those who seek to filibuster, rather than genuinely try and solve what are undoubted problems, will be seen for what they are,” said Foil president Tim Wallis. “The costs system is a mess, and although this is not of lawyers' making, society deserves the very best contribution from its lawyers in sorting it out.”