piBlawg

the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Cost Budgets – Rule Changes

Changes to the CPR coming into force today alter the rules relating to cost budgets. In cases with a stated value of over £50,000 all parties except litigants in person will now exchange budgets 21 days before the first case management conference. Parties must then file an agreed  “budget discussion report” at least 7 days before the first CMC setting out what is agreed, what not agreed, and brief grounds for the latter. The parties are encouraged, but not required, to use a new precedent (“Precedent R”) for the purposes of the budget discussion report. New Rule 3.13 reads:  (1) Unless the court otherwise orders, all parties except litigants in person must file and exchange budgets— (a) where the stated value of the claim on the claim form is less than £50,000, with their directions questionnaires; or (b) in any other case, not later than 21 days before the first case management conference. (2) In the event that a party files and exchanges a budget under paragraph (1), all other parties, not being litigants in person, must file an agreed budget discussion report no later than 7 days before the first case management conference.   Paragraph 6A of Practice Direction 3E now reads: The budget discussion report required by rule 3.13(2) must set out— (a) those figures which are agreed for each phase; (b) those figures which are not agreed for each phase; and (c) a brief summary of the grounds of dispute. The parties are encouraged to use the Precedent R Budget Discussion Report annexed to this Practice Direction.   These changes are to be welcomed. Earlier exchange of budgets before a CMC should ensure that points of dispute are identified earlier and with greater clarity. Having the extent of agreement and disagreement in a single document also makes sense. Previously one often had to refer to points spread across a stream of correspondence. There remain more fundamental problems with cost budgets which are not addressed by these changes. It remains to be seen whether further reform can make the system as a whole operate smoothly and efficiently.

Health and safety and self-employment – where do the boundaries lie?

Regular readers of the piblawg will no doubt recall previous posts discussing the various implications of the Lofstedt report . Published in November 2011, it is of course more correctly referred to as the “Reclaiming Health and Safety for All Review”.  It included a large number of suggested reforms, all aimed at “reducing the burden of health and safety regulation on business, whilst maintaining the progress that has been made in health and safety outcomes”. To date, perhaps the most high profile (and significant) of its implications was of course the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and its abolition of civil liability for breach of duty under health and safety regulations. We are of course now almost two years on from the coming into force of those changes. Despite this, questions as to what practical effect this change might ultimately have on personal injury practice remain unanswered as yet. It appears likely that further issues may soon arise, with another of the Lofstedt report’s recommendations about to enter into force on 1st October 2015. This is as a result of the coming into force of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (General Duties of Self-Employed Persons)(Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations. The Regulations are very short (hardly longer than their rather verbose title) and have only one practical purpose. This is to exempt the self-employed from the application of health and safety legislation. In this context, this refers to  obligations arising under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.  As a result, health and safety legislation will no longer apply to anyone who is self-employed unless their work activities “may pose a risk to the health or safety of another person (other than the self-employed person carrying it out or their employees)” Certain activities will not be treated as exempt activities, irrespective of whether or not they are being carried out by a self-employed person. In those circumstances, the existing regulatory framework will continue to apply. Work activities that will not be affected by the 2015 Regulations for this reason are identified within its Schedule. Essentially, they include what the HSE refers to as “high risk” activities. These are those involving: (1) agriculture and forestry; (2) work with asbestos or involving the sampling of it; (3) construction, including any activity giving rise to duties under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015; (4) any work to which the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 applies; (5) the “contained use” of genetically modified organisms; and (6) the operation of a railway. It seems unlikely that the description of any of these activities as potentially giving rise to a risk to the health and safety of another is likely to be contentious. What is rather harder to work out is who can (and should) assert that their work activities do not pose a risk to the health and safety of another and that they are thus outside the scope of more extensive regulation. The HSE estimate that 1.7 million people will fall within this category, but working out which side of the line a particular individual might fall is going to be more problematic and, inevitably, is going to provide fertile ground for argument. Putting aside questions of probability and foreseeability, pretty well any work activity might plausibly give rise to risks to others. Presumably therefore, although the Regulations do not actually contain any wording to this effect, the words “may pose a risk” is to be read as indicating that there is a threshold level of risk below which it can be treated as non-existent. Quite where that boundary might lie in practice is however harder to determine. For obvious reasons, there are not yet any decided authorities on the point and presumably will not be for some time to come. Nor is the HSE’s own guidance especially helpful. On the one hand, it suggests that the possibility that someone might be “burnt, scalded, crushed, trip over or fall” will mean that the threshold level of risk has been crossed and that the exemption will not be available. This is understandable. What is perhaps harder to understand is why it is then suggested that a baker working from home would not now be caught within the scope of health and safety law. This uncertainty is not only going to be problematic for personal injury lawyers dealing with these cases at some point in the future. In the very near future, many self-employed people are going to have to elect whether or not to treat themselves as outside the ambit of this area of regulation. Whilst the answer may be obvious in many cases, for those whose activities are perhaps closer to the line, the decision as to whether or not to ignore some more onerous requirements may be a difficult, costly and unwelcome one. Is the making of that decision merely one form of bureaucracy taking the place of another? Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE It seems naïve to think that such a decision is not going to be the subject of regular challenge in the aftermath of an accident. Even if ultimately vindicated, the time, effort and money involved in having to deal with the inevitable consequences of this uncertainty are hardly consistent with the stated aims of the Lofstedt Review. Moreover, where individuals are found to have been in error in treating themselves as being outside the scope of more extensive regulation, the price of making the wrong call on this might be considerable…

Holding out for the Heroism Bill

The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (dubbed by some the “Sarah Bill”) is being returned to the House of Commons, with amendments, following its final reading in the House of Lords on 6 January 2015. The much-maligned and exceptionally brief Bill seeks to introduce a requirement that courts deciding negligence and/or breach of statutory duty cases and in determining the standard of care give consideration to whether the activity or omission complained of was for the benefit of society, whether the person carrying out the activity demonstrated a “predominantly responsible approach” in protecting a person’s safety or other interests and whether (in emergency situations) the person intervened “heroically”.   Clause 4 in particular makes clear that the Bill is aimed predominantly at personal injury cases, although it will apply to non-personal injury cases. Critics of the Bill have suggested that it is largely being promoted by the Government to further protect employers and to appease the insurance industry. Indeed, the Bill has been criticised on several grounds, mostly as being a mere publicity stunt by the Government but also for its vagueness. The Sarah Bill is designed to afford greater protection to volunteers and employers who might otherwise be deterred from performing worthwhile deeds or organising events due to the risk of finding themselves on the end of a negligence claim. The Bill survived an attempt in December 2014 at the Second Reading to remove most of its (four) clauses. At the Third Reading, clause 3 (the social responsibility clause) was amended such that (in assessing the standard of care) the individual’s approach towards protecting the safety and interest of others must have been “predominantly”, rather “generally”, responsible. Clause 4 was also amended, removing the words “and without regard to the person’s own safety or other interests” to make clear that the clause applies equally to those cases where the person (sorry, hero(ine)) assess  the risks to their own safety or other interests before intervening (as well as those where they did not assess the risks). The amended Bill will be considered by the House of Commons on 2 February 2015. If the Bill is passed, there are potentially difficult questions for the judges on the ground to answer. The Bill is somewhat unhelpfully brief and uses terms which are somewhat “foreign”. The first difficulty is going to be determining when a defendant’s action was “for the benefit of society or any of its members.” The clause has a potentially enormous scope. Employers, particularly in the public sector, are likely going to try to fit themselves under this clause. But even if they do, you may well ask, so what? It is only a factor for the judge to consider and is by no means a defence. There is no indication of what weight, if any, judges will place on this factor. Judges will also have to decide on what is meant under clause 3 by a “predominantly responsible approach” in protecting the safety or other interests of others. Again, the potential scope of the clause is vast. Will it apply, for instance, to all medical professionals? Will it apply to any attempt by an employer to introduce some health and safety measure? And what is the tipping point for an approach to be categorised as “predominantly responsible”? There is potential for a stream of cases on that issue alone, unless of course there is a judicial reluctance to engage with the clause and it goes the way of section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006. It is also questionable how many cases will fall under clause 4 (the heroism clause). But for those that do, what do we mean by acting “heroically”? This is an entirely foreign legal concept and is open to a sliding scale of judicial interpretation.  Are doctors acting “heroically” in emergency situations or will the clause only apply to the volunteer, have-a-go hero(ine) which the Government seems to have intended? The Bill, as is stands, is brief, vague and uses terms to which the legal world is not accustomed. Although cases might throw up interesting questions on how to interpret the Bill, one has to wonder whether it will all be for nought. Chris Grayling MP himself has said, "The bill will not change this overarching legal framework, but it will direct the courts to consider particular factors when considering whether the defendant took reasonable care." If judges do not engage with it or consideration of these particulars factors makes no material difference in practice, will defendants even bother to try to fit their cases under one of the clauses? Much like section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006, it will be judicial appetite that determines how effective the Bill’s clauses become. Given the criticism of the Bill in judicial circles, do not expect that appetite to be very strong.  

Coroners, Consistency and Change

  Harold Macmillan is famously said to have observed that:   “There are three bodies no sensible man directly challenges: the Roman Catholic Church, the Brigade of Guards and the National Union of Mineworkers”.   To this list should perhaps be added the Royal British Legion.   The Coroners and Justice Act (CJA) 2009 contained legislation to reform the process of death investigation and certification in England and Wales to deal with the shortcomings of single doctor death certification identified in the Shipman Inquiries. It also created the new office of Chief Coroner (CC).     In October 2010, Jonathan Djanogly, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice announced that some of the provisions of the CJA 2009 would not be implemented. These included the office of CC.   Following widespread public criticism, including a message to all members of parliament from the Royal British Legion which appeared prominently in a number of national newspapers, the government relented.   Kenneth Clarke, then the Justice Secretary, announced that he had “listened and reflected on the concerns” and the office of CC would be created after all.   In May 2012 the Lord Chief Justice in consultation with the Lord Chancellor appointed Judge Peter Thornton Q.C. as the first CC of England and Wales.   On 1 July 2014 the CC presented to the Lord Chancellor his first annual report which can be downloaded free of charge from the government’s website:   https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/330652/chief-coroner-annual-report-july-2014.pdf   The report covers the period from 25 July 2013 to 30 June 2014 and contains information which will be of interest and help to all lawyers doing coronial work. In particular the report includes sections on:   The training of and the guidance now provided to coroners. The appointment of coroners and the merging of certain coroner areas. Investigation and inquest processes. Delays in investigations. Prevention of future death reports.   As the report recognises much work still needs to be done. But the CC can take credit for the fact that more hearings are now held in public, all hearings are recorded, most inquests are or soon will be held within six months and there is now better and earlier disclosure to interested parties.   Currently in England and Wales there are 99 separate coroner areas. We await with interest next year’s report to see if the CC’s stated intention to reduce these to about 75 areas, each being an appropriate size in terms of numbers of deaths reported geographically and special work - prisons, major hospitals, mental health institutions and airports – will result in further improvements to the coronial service overall.

Legislating for "Statutory Common Sense" and Personal Injury Litigation?

A court considering a claim in negligence or breach of statutory duty may, in determining whether the defendant should have taken particular steps to meet a standard of care (whether by taking precautions against a risk or otherwise), have regard to whether a requirement to take those steps might— (a) prevent a desirable activity from being undertaken at all, to a particular extent or in a particular way, or (b) discourage persons from undertaking functions in connection with a desirable activity. Please excuse the cumbersome language. This is section 2 of the Compensation Act 2006 – a statutory provision which is rather underused by defendant lawyers (and apparently largely unknown to judges). However, perhaps this is not without good reason. Whilst the provision’s introduction was fêted as being a powerful weapon in the hand of the defendant and judge in the fight against the rising tide of personal injury litigation seen since the late-1990s, it clearly has not had much of an effect. Part of the reason for this may well be the slightly vague nature of the terms of the provision: firstly the word “may” instead of “must”; and the obvious subjectivity of the interpretation of the word “desirable”.   This is something of a worry to the current administration, at least following the recent local and European Elections. Concern more widely about ‘health and safety’ (particularly amongst older and more Euro-sceptical sections of the electorate, whose votes may no longer be a safe bet for the current political party in power) appears to have been taken more seriously.   It has recently been widely reported that the Lord Chancellor wants an inclusion in the Queen’s Speech setting out the Government’s commitment to statutory reform to end any ‘chilling effect’ that any such concerns may engender. The BBC reports that the Ministry of Justice “wants to force judges to give weight to three factors in cases where people do end up facing litigation: If the person was doing something "for the benefit of society", such as clearing snow If they were acting in a "generally responsible way" If they stepped in to help in an emergency” It is reported that the MoJ wishes to "put the law more clearly on the side of employers" when something goes wrong at work through no fault of their own”, and that  the “law change would protect small business owners who take a "responsible approach to safety training and procedures" from the challenges of "irresponsible employees". The Lord Chancellor is quotes as suggesting that he would "want a society where common sense is the order of the day, and I believe this measure will help us get there."   So ‘watch this space’ as to whether/how this may change the nature of personal injury litigation…

Lights, Camera … Appeal!

    It’s Channel 4’s fault!   Was it just coincidence that on 10 July, the day after “The Murder Trial” was first screened on television, the Court of Appeal (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2013 was published?   Or that yesterday (17 July) saw the release of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (Commencement No 3) Order 2013 which, amongst other things, permits the Lord Chancellor by order to enable the making and use of films and other recordings of proceedings in courts in England and Wales?   Nick Holt's documentary concerned the retrial of Nat Fraser for the murder of his wife, Arlene, in Scotland. Mr. Fraser had already been tried and found guilty but in 2011 his conviction was quashed by the Supreme Court and the Channel 4 film followed his retrial.   Compressing a five week trial into two hours was always going to be challenging. Six remote cameras were placed inside the courtroom in Edinburgh with the consent of all the parties including Mr. Fraser who was re-convicted for the murder of his wife whose body has never been found after she went missing in 1998.   The public can already watch proceedings in the Supreme Court. The new Order sets out the conditions under which broadcasters in England and Wales will be able to film in the Court of Appeal later this year.   Currently, section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 makes it an offence to film in court and section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 makes it a contempt of court to record sound in court except with the permission of the court. The new Order provides that these provisions do not apply where the conditions in the Order have been satisfied. There is power in the Order to prescribe the types of hearing that can be recorded, what part of the hearing can be recorded and who can record a hearing. There is also power to set out when the recording of a hearing in the Court of Appeal can be broadcast and what content is permitted in a broadcast.   In “The Murder Trial” I thought Mr. Fraser's defence team did a pretty good job on his behalf. However, dramatic compromises were still necessary. These included the action in the court room being interspersed with shots of isolated forest tracks and a soundtrack clearly chosen to ratchet up the tension and anxiety.   Personally, I get all the tension and anxiety I need just by being in the Court of Appeal but when drafting my next skeleton argument, I will definitely give some thought to the music to go with it … just in case!          

Litigants in Person, the Judges and You!

      According to the government's own figures, 623,000 of the 1,000,000 people who previously received public funding each year ceased to be eligible for such assistance when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 came into force on 1 April 2013.   On 5 July 2013 the Judicial Working Group on Litigants in Person (LIPs) published its report on how the judiciary proposes to deal with the massive increase in LIPs in courts and tribunals. It merits careful reading by all practitioners.    www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Reports/lip_2013.pdf    The challenges are immense and will be further increased by the impending rise in the financial limit for the small claims track from £5,000 to £10,000. A doubling of this limit will inevitably mean more cases fall within the small claims track where public funding is not available. As for alternative sources of assistance, the Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that local advice and community based services will lose over 77% of their public funding.    In 2012, District Judge Richard Chapman, the immediate past president of the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges observed that already:   “Judges like me are spending more and more of our time having to deal with litigants who simply do not know the law, have never heard of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 or the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and have breached most of the case management directions”.    The report recommends that the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service should devote the necessary time and resources to producing, with judicial involvement, appropriate materials, including audio-visual materials, to inform LIPs what is required of them and what they can expect when they go to court as well as reviewing the information that is currently publically accessible on the various judicial websites – see [2.8] and [3.49-3.52] of the report.   The Judicial College should also urgently assess the  feasibility of providing training on LIPs –  a sort of “Quick Lit” course for judges – together with developing a  “litigants in person toolkit” utilising the existing judicial guidance – see [2.9] and [4.9-4.19] of the report.   More far reaching proposals include:   1.      The inclusion in the CPR of a dedicated rule which makes specific modifications to other rules where one or more of the parties to proceedings is a litigant in person.  2.      The introduction of a power into Rule 3.1 CPR to permit the court to direct, where at least one party is an LIP, that proceedings should be conducted as a more inquisitorial form of process.  3.      The introduction of a specific general practice direction or new rule in the CPR to address, without creating a fully inquisitorial form of procedure, the needs of  LIPs in obtaining access to justice whilst enabling  courts to manage cases consistently – see [2.10] and [5.11] of the report.    The stark reality is that in some courts and tribunals LIPs will be the rule rather than the exception. This will inevitably slow down and drive up the cost of proceedings and take up valuable judicial time. Equally inevitably, the call will surely go out from the judges to practitioners at all levels for assistance in responding to the challenges that lie ahead.   Image – www.123rf.com

Shut out: The UK Supreme Court’s first "secret hearing"

Bank Mellat v HM Treasury UKSC 2011/0040     The Supreme Court held a hearing in secret today, for the first time in its history.   According to the BBC, the justices spent 45 minutes in a locked session with a security guard stood outside the door to prevent anyone from entering. The hearing was so sensitive that the justices had to leave one courtroom and set up in another which had greater soundproofing.   The hearing arises out of the Treasury’s decision in 2010 to ban an Iranian bank from operating in the UK, using powers under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. The government alleged that the bank had been indirectly involved in financing companies linked to the Iranian nuclear programme.   At first instance, Mr Justice Mitting permitted some of the government’s evidence to be adduced behind closed doors on grounds that it contained sensitive material that may compromise national security. The first instance judgment was therefore produced in two drafts, with only the redacted version being made available to the public.   A nine-strong panel decided that the court did have jurisdiction to consider the closed judgment, but would only do so if persuaded (on the basis of submissions in open court) that it was necessary for the purpose of fairly disposing of the appeal. At that stage the court was not so persuaded. Lord Hope described the government’s refusal to spell out even its basic national security case in open court as ‘cloak and dagger stuff’ that was ‘difficult to swallow’.   The court was reluctantly persuaded this morning that it was indeed necessary to consider the closed judgment and that this would necessitate a closed hearing. According to Lord Neuberger ‘unless and until an appellate court sees the judgment, it often cannot be sure its contents will be irrelevant or that its contents have been fully gisted’. He went on ‘no doubt in due course when we have completed the closed hearing...we will have quite a few things to say about this unhappy procedure.’   The court clearly has it in mind to use this episode to issue guidance to other courts faced with similar requests for a closed hearing. But whatever tests and safeguards are laid down, the use of secret courts is bound to become more widespread with the passage of the Justice and Security Bill.   Where litigants are prevented from seeing the State's evidence against them, hearing its submissions on that evidence, or understanding what part that evidence played in their claim being dismissed, the balance of justice is dangerously skewed. And far from being immune to these changes, PI litigation, employers’ liability in particular (for instance, claims by wounded servicemen against the MoD) may yet become the area of law most acutely affected.

After pasties and caravans … CFAs and DBAs?

Is it just me or should we all be concerned about the way in which the legislation to implement Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations is being introduced?   Why have there been so few announcements about what are, after all, radical and far reaching public policy changes? If we as legal professionals are unsure about the proposed changes, how can we properly advise the public after 1 April 2013?   Will legal professionals soon be joining bakers and caravanning enthusiasts in pointing out to the government the potential far reaching consequences of over hasty legislation?   In the foreword to his final report on costs in civil litigation dated 21 December 2009 Lord Justice Jackson wrote:   “ … I therefore propose a coherent package of interlocking reforms, designed to control costs and promote access to justice ...”   He went on to make a total of 109 separate recommendations some but not all of which have found their way into proposed new legislation. In particular the Conditional Fee Agreements Order 2013 (the CFA Order) and the Damages-based Agreements Regulations 2013 (the DBA Regulations) have now been laid before Parliament and were subject to a Motion to Approve debate in the House of Lords on 26 February 2013.   Both have been described by the General Council for the Bar (GCB) as “not fit for purpose”. The GCB also suggested that the proposed order and regulations “will deny access to justice, burden the courts’ time with unnecessary satellite litigation and limit the commercial use of DBAs”.    There are certainly grounds for concern. As we all know, the success fee under a CFA entered into after 1 April 2013 for proceedings at first instance will be capped at 25%. Article 5(2) of the proposed CFA Order provides that this will be 25% of “(a) general damages for pain, suffering, and loss of amenity; and (b) damages for pecuniary loss, other than future pecuniary loss” (my emphasis). However, in a lecture given on 29 February 2012, Lord Justice Jackson amended his view in response to submissions from a number of parties and proposed that the cap should be 25% of all damages. There must be a risk that in larger and more complicated cases which are difficult to cost budget and involve significant initial disbursements, limiting the cap to 25% of past losses will not promote “access to justice” as Lord Justice Jackson hoped but may in fact prove to be a disincentive to  taking on such cases in the first place.   Then there is VAT. As drafted, the proposed CFA Order provides that the “damages” to which the 25% cap applies are “net of any sums recoverable by the Compensation Recovery Unit of the Department for Work and Pensions”. There is no exclusion for VAT. But if VAT is included in such damages there is not only scope for uncertainty (what happens, for example, if the VAT rate changes after the CFA has been entered into but before a bill of costs is rendered?) but in the larger and more complicated cases this may be a further reason why those contemplating taking on such cases may decline to do so on the grounds that the unpredictability of the risk will not be properly compensated by the level of the CFA.   The same objections apply to the proposed DBA Regulations. As presently drafted, the cap for DBAs is inclusive of VAT but exclusive of damages for future pecuniary loss. In addition, the DBA Regulations do not allow for “hybrid” agreements i.e. agreements under which some costs are recoverable if a “win” does not occur rather than no costs at all. This is again contrary to what Lord Justice Jackson recommended and may prove a disincentive to the use of DBAs particularly in commercial cases.   Access to justice may not be as newsworthy as Cornish pasties and static caravans but in resource-intensive cases, the government’s aim of protecting the damages recoverable by claimants may actually result in some claimants being unable to obtain legal representation and thus recovering no damages at all.       Image – cornishpasties.com