Editorial: Peace at last, costs war is over

It would appear that, after three long years of pitched battle since the advent of conditional fees between claimant lawyers and the defendant insurance industry, the costs war in the courts is finally over. Certainly, this was the view of the Civil Justice Council (CJC) last week, which brokered a deal between the two sides, which sees a standard success fee for all those motor cases that are settled pre or post-issue at court. The CJC reckons the deal will affect half a million cases a year and slash substantially the satellite litigation that has blighted low-value personal injury (PI) cases.

This compromise was the result of a hard-fought peace. Apparently, the negotiations ended at 1.30am last Friday (10 October) after what one lawyer called “a hell of a mediation”. Not surprisingly, the magic figure of a 12.5 per cent success fee means that neither side of the debate will be claiming to have had the best of it. It was also agreed that those cases that go to trial would have a 100 per cent success fee.

But at least claimant solicitors seem to think they can make the business case plausible. According to the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil), it is “a very fair conclusion to a protracted series of negotiations”.

This time last year life looked decidedly grim for claimant firms, when Lord Justice Brooke proposed a two-stage success fee (a 5 per cent success fee if the case settled pre-issue and 100 per cent if it went to trial) in the case of Halloran v Delaney.

If peace comes at a price, then it is a price that many claimant lawyers will consider well worth paying. Not least if it means an end to the increasingly technical challenges that insurers have been throwing out of late. Not only was this a huge cashflow problem for many cash-strapped firms, but more importantly it served to compound the misery of accident victims. So let’s hope it works.