Government Blunders its way into Possible Judicial Review

neck-braceThe government could be facing a judicial review over a recent set of blunders with reform proposals. The government has been criticised for a number of missteps in recent personal injury reform proposals, some of which have led to the possibility of review.

The government recently unveiled a whole raft of proposals for consultation, which could see significant change to the personal injury sector. Primarily, these would target whiplash claims following traffic accidents, but some of the key measures proposed would also apply to other areas of personal injury law such as workplace accident claims. The proposals are quite varied in their nature, but are largely aimed at curbing what the government perceives to be an excessive claim numbers.

The most prominent blunder that has been revealed is the use of outdated figures in the creation of the consultation document and the setting of proposed levels of financial compensation for minor injuries. The data used for this aspect of the document makes use of old judicial guidelines and therefore fails to to account for an increase made in the Autumn of last year.

The September 2015 revision which the paper overlooks saw a 3.4% increase in financial figures to account for inflation. Perhaps more significant, however, is the fact that there was a much more significant increase in those figures relating to the lowest band of claims for injuries to soft tissue. This group of injuries saw an increase of 20%.

Kerry Underwood, a solicitor, blogger and contributor to a number of major legal publications, suggests that the increase to the lowest soft tissue injury band represents a problem that goes beyond the significant size of the change itself. The kind of injuries that fall into this band, she points out, “are precisely those now under attack by the MoJ as disproportionately high. So the figures that the MoJ think are too high, were thought too low by the top judicial and other experts.”

These blunders, she says, make the consultation paper “misleading and now open to judicial review.”

Separately, the government as a whole has also attracted criticism for its left hand apparently not knowing what its right is doing. Much was made of the proposed reforms to curb whiplash claims being designed to result in a reduction in insurance premiums, said to equate to £40 a year for the average motorist. Law-abiding motorists bearing the cost of excessive, frivolous, or fake injury claims was stated as a justification for the need to introduce such reforms, and it was said that insurers had already promised to pass on their savings. However, within days of the Ministry of Justice beginning consultations, the Autumn statement saw the Treasury an increase to insurance premium tax, which many took to be a measure running counter to personal injury reforms and likely to soften or eliminate the promised reduction in premiums.

Senior Judges Speak out Against Government Court Fee Mistakes

Court FeesSenior members of the judiciary have harshly criticised the government with regard to increases in court fees. These increases, the judges feel along with many other parties, represent a serious mistake and are having a profound negative impact on the UK’s justice system.

Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, led the verbal attach and was supported by Sir Ernest Ryder and Sir James Munby. Appearing before the House of Commons’ justice committee, Dyson said that the increased fees were impeding the ability of many parties to receive justice under UK law.

“Ordinary people,” Dyson said, were being put off of taking their cases to court by the fees and this left them unable to uphold their rights under the law. Furthermore, it is not just individuals affected in this way, Dyson said, but also small and medium-sized businesses. These are exactly the kind of businesses, he pointed out, that “this government says time and time again they want to encourage.” In light of this, the introduction of a measure that keeps these businesses from upholding their legal rights seems like an especially momentous blunder.

Dyson was then asked about government claims that requiring lawyers and insurers to pay such fees up front would provide an effective safeguard. He responded: “They say that, but what is the research upon which that is based? I have not seen any.”

Lord Dyson also criticised the view taken by the Ministry of Justice ahead of the implementation of the fee increases with regards to demand. The Ministry believed that an increase in fees would not significantly harm demand, which Dyson called “an assumption [with a] very limited evidential base.” He went on to say that he had been “extremely sceptical” about this opinion.

The research carried out before the fee increases were implemented was something Dyson criticised especially harshly, describing it as “hopeless.” There was very little done, he said, beyond the making of 31 phone calls to various parties with an interest in the issue, and the judiciary had warned the government about the “real dangers” of putting up fees in the civil courts but had gone unheeded.

Sir Ernest Ryder added that, following the introduction of the reforms, employment tribunal cases had fallen by 70%. Sir James Munby, meanwhile, was critical of the increases in fees for divorce cases, which he said hit were hitting women disproportionately hard and effectively made for “another poll tax on wheels.”

Stacey Hyde did Kill, But Life is the Wrong Sentence

Stacey Hyde definitely killed a man. The man’s name was Vincent Francis, and nobody tries to claim she did not kill him. Not even Ms Hyde herself.  The problem is, she was sentenced to life. In the circumstances, this is clearly wrong for a number of reasons and not even consistent with the way such trials are usually carried out.

Firstly, Ms Hyde admits to the killing and shows remorse – something which usually lightens sentences. Secondly, she was acting under stressful circumstances, acting out of fear and in the defence of herself and a friend. For this reason she pleaded not guilty, and the circumstances should at least have served as a mitigating factor. Instead, the fact was essentially ignored. Many have claimed that Ms Hyde’s trial demonstrates some of the problems that women can face under the predominantly male English legal system.

The killing took place in 2009, in the early days of September. Hyde was 17 at the time, and she went out to enjoy some drinks with Holly Banwell, the girlfriend of the deceased. At the end of their evening out together, they went back to the flat where Francis and Banwell were living together. Ms Hyde passed out on the bed from her night of drinking.

In the early hours, Hyde claims to have woken up to the sound of Ms Banwell screaming for help. She ran to her friend’s aid and was attacked by Francis. The struggle, which was witnessed by a neighbour and described by Banwell to a 999 operator as it happened, ended with Hyde grabbing a knife and frenziedly stabbing out at Francis. This was a disproportionate reaction – as her defence counsel openly admitted – but was driven by fear and done in defence not only of herself but of Ms Banwell.

Psychiatrists who examined Ms Hyde after the incident identified certain mental health issues, which should have served as further mitigating factors. These, too, were seemingly ignored.

Campaign Group Justice for Women has voiced its support for Ms Hyde. They have pointed out that apart from the witnesses to the circumstances surrounding Francis’ killing, there was also plenty of reason to believe she could realistically have been acting in self-defence. There were 27 recorded incidents of domestic violence committed by Francis against Ms Banwell – all of which were acknowledged by the prosecution. He also had a record of violence against a previous partner.

The handing of a life sentence to Hyde is surely a mistake, and one that will hopefully be corrected thanks to the efforts of campaign groups like Justice for Women.