Ian Miller’s recent post looking at of what party manifestos might tell us about the way ahead for personal injury lawyers identified a large number of potentially significant and yet radically differing changes ahead. Which actually lay in store for us was, of course, going to be dependent upon which way we voted – and upon which post-election alliances were formed and the compromises that were going to be required to hold them together.
Surprisingly, only a short time after that post was published, we find ourselves in a position in which a much clearer outcome has emerged from that election than appeared likely at the time of Ian’s post. Whilst the Green Party’s proposal to bring back legal aid never really appeared to have much of a chance of being implemented, it did at times appear that a return to one-party government was not a great deal more likely. Nonetheless, that is where we find ourselves.
As a result, one might expect that we would be able to move on from the election better able to plan for the future with a degree of certainty as to what might lie ahead. Despite the relatively conclusive outcome to the election, whether this is in fact the case for personal injury lawyers is however questionable. The “in-out” referendum promised in the Conservative manifesto makes it (still) very difficult to predict what might lie in store – whatever the result and whatever interpretation one might put on the contents of that manifesto.
Opposing views as to which outcome of the referendum might be preferable are beginning to appear in the media - despite the fact that there appears to be very little (or no) suggestion as to what changes might be wrought by the “new settlement” to which the manifesto refers. Insofar as it might affect the business of personal injury litigation, the possibilities seem both endless and potentially very far-reaching, whether we end up with a novel basis of membership of the EU or indeed no membership at all.
The possibilities for change (whether intended or not) are myriad – whether under a “yes” to a novel settlement or a “no”. One can only wonder what might ultimately be the subject of renegotiation or an “opt out”. What, for instance, would be the position in relation in relation to claims arising from road traffic accidents abroad? Would claims arising from package holidays still fall to be dealt with in the same way? Would potentially diverging consumer standards impact upon product liability claims?
It is equally hard to see how any degree of disengagement from the EU would or could permit a status quo to be maintained, even where this might be perceived as a desirable compromise position in relation to a particular areas of law. Were this approach to be tried, it begs the question of what would happen when and if the remaining states revised the current situation. Would it necessitate renewal of the UK’s agreement to the position? Would it leave the UK outwith that agreement? Or would it leave us in some other position entirely?
Equally, were we to see a particularly emphatic “no” vote, could this be perceived as a mandate to “undo” some of the six-pack regulations or other legislation widely perceived as imposing “red tape” upon public bodies and employers? Given the contents of the recent Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, it may not be a surprise if this were so.
So many questions – so few answers. Deciding how to vote in any such referendum is going to be challenging for anyone. To what degree it will be possible to make an informed decision about the issues potentially affecting personal injury litigation remains to be seen.
It can only be hoped that potentially significant changes receive the publicity and scrutiny that their significance would merit. Given the apparent lack of appreciation of the significance of the changes wrought by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 prior to its coming into force, it does not seem to be inappropriately pessimistic to wonder whether this will in fact be the case.
Time, as ever, will no doubt tell…