Westminster update: MoJ called on to investigate whiplash backlog

Your weekly update from our public affairs team on the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall. Ben Lloyd looks at the whiplash backlog, power of attorney legislation and the UK-Switzerland RPQ agreement.
The palace of Westminster in the evening.
Photograph: Thomas Riebesehl

One thing you need to do

With all major political parties holding their annual party conferences soon, we're hosting various events with prominent political stakeholders to promote solicitors and the wider profession.

Across the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat conferences, the Law Society is hosting fringes in conjunction with each party’s lawyers society.

If you’re planning to attend party conference, or will be nearby, get in touch and join us!

What you need to know

1. Whiplash backlog: MoJ called on to investigate

The Justice Select Committee highlighted the growing number of unresolved cases in the Official Injury Claim Service (OIC) portal in a report published last week as part of its inquiry into the government’s whiplash reform.

The UK government’s whiplash reforms were intended to reduce the number of whiplash claims and their cost.

However, the committee’s report outlined that only a minority of cases have reached a settlement since the portal’s launch in 2021.

The committee has warned that the backlog of cases stands at 349,000.

We submitted written evidence to the committee as part of its inquiry and were quoted a number of times throughout the report.

The committee included our view that the OIC will likely be viewed as a model for future digital justice reforms.

The main takeaway from its rollout is that the end user should always be included in the development of a portal or online process.

We also argued that portals like the OIC should be integrated into court processes so efficiencies can be maximised as much as possible.

We share many of the concerns set out in the report and support its recommendation that technological problems impacting the portal be resolved urgently.

The committee also called for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to work with the Motor Insurers’ Bureau to set out how it is addressing these issues.

The government has until November to respond to the report.

The committee has said it will continue to explore issues around whiplash reform after the Supreme Court has ruled on the Hassam v Rabot case in early 2024.

2. Powers of attorney legislation becomes law

The Powers of Attorney Act received royal assent on Monday 18 September, after passing through both houses with very little amending.

The act will reform the process of making and registering a lasting power of attorney (LPA) to make it safer, easier, and more sustainable.

It will also widen the group of people who can provide certified copies of powers of attorney to include chartered legal executives.

Stephen Metcalfe (Conservative), the MP who introduced the bill, explained that people wishing to make LPAs struggle to understand the system and complete the registration accurately.

He said that the reliance on paper has, up until now, made the process even more complicated and lengthy, which is unsustainable as the number of LPA applications is increasing rapidly.

One of the act’s main effects will be to digitalise the LPA process.

We followed the passage of the act closely, to ensure that the creation of a digital channel is balanced against the need for suitable safeguards.

We are satisfied that the UK government is committed to continuing the paper process for those who find it difficult to navigate the digital system.

We are also working closely with the MoJ to ensure that it is made clear that an LPA certificate provider is also required to verify that the donor has the mental capacity to make an LPA, and to set out the requirements for fulfilling this role.

We do, however, remain concerned about the IT system used to register for online services provided by the government, which can be complicated and hard to use, even for those who are digitally literate.

There is also a lack of detail on the proposed ID verification system for making a power of attorney and whether a person who is not digitally literate would be able to access this without significant support.

We hope these issues will be addressed during user testing before the new system is introduced.

3. UK-Switzerland RPQ agreement: Lords Committee publishes report

The House of Lords International Agreements Committee published its report on the UK-Switzerland Recognition of Professional Qualifications (RPQ) Agreement.

The RPQ agreement was signed in June this year. It grants UK-qualified professionals in regulated sectors a smooth and transparent route for their qualifications to be recognised in Switzerland and vice versa.

Our written submission to the inquiry is referenced multiple times in the report.

Our positive response to the agreement was highlighted, along with a note that “the legal profession may have fewer concerns about the specifics of the agreement because of the annex which is specifically dedicated to legal services.”

The legal services annex was added at our request, as a result of our direct engagement with officials from the Department of Business and Trade.

We have welcomed the agreement, on the grounds that it provides a clear, transparent and proportionate requalification path for UK lawyers in this key jurisdiction.

We are keen to see the government use the RPQ agreement as a blueprint for more ambitious commitments in trade negotiations with other countries.

Coming up

We'll be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

If you made it this far...

The Law Society continues to research and report on widespread legal deserts. Vast areas of England and Wales lack sufficient legal aid provision.

With the government not expected to publish proposals for civil legal aid until 2024, we have made an urgent call for £11.3 million of short-term investment to support the civil legal aid system and ensure all have access to justice.