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A new government and a new agenda?

After a turbulent 6 months, on 21 June 2017 Her Majesty the Queen delivered her speech at the state opening of Parliament.

Introduction

After a turbulent 6 months complete with a snap election and a new minority Government coming into power, on 21 June 2017 Her Majesty the Queen delivered her speech at the state opening of Parliament setting out the agenda for the coming parliamentary session. Whilst the legislative programme focused heavily on Brexit, there were a number of announcements which potentially stand to directly benefit compensators.

The legislative programme

In all, the Queen announced 23 bills to be introduced by the Government in this Parliamentary session, 6 of which are in our view likely to be of interest to compensators.

1. Civil Liability Bill

As expected, the Government has resurrected measures to reform the personal injury claims process with a view to tackling the spiraling cost of whiplash claims. These reforms were previously contained within the now defunct Prisons and Courts Bill. Whilst there is very little information available at this stage as to what measures the new bill will contain, we do know that it will include a ban on pre-medical offers and the introduction of a new tariff for whiplash claims of up to two years duration. It remains to be seen whether the definition of “whiplash” in the new bill will be an improvement on the previous attempt or whether the figures for the proposed tariff will have changed.

Previously it was also widely speculated that the Prisons and Courts Bill could have been used as the legislative vehicle to bring about changes to how the discount rate is calculated and set. It seems likely that the Civil Liability Bill could be used in exactly the same way, although the outcome of the recent consultation on the discount rate is still awaited.

This Bill is surely good news for compensators as it reinforces the firm intention to tackle the whiplash problem in the UK, although it should be noted that a £35 per annum reduction in insurance premiums is expected in return. The bill will only apply to the jurisdiction of England and Wales.

2. The Financial Guidance and Claims Bill

This bill introduces the legislation necessary to transfer regulatory oversight of Claims Management Companies (“CMCs”) from the Ministry of Justice (“MOJ”) to the Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) and for complaints relating to CMCs to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The aim of the Government is to strengthen the regulation of CMCs, protecting consumers from dysfunctional behaviours such as the use of nuisance calls and the encouragement of fraudulent claims. Whilst the main bill will apply to the whole of the UK, the provisions relating to CMCs will only apply to the jurisdiction of England and Wales.

The transfer of regulatory oversight to the FCA has been on the table for some time. We await with interest the draft bill in order to further understand the process and the powers that will be granted to the FCA to make such regulation effective. We also fully expect the FCA to consult with the market in due course as it seeks to develop the new regulatory regime.

3. The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill

This bill replaces the previous Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which in turn replaced the Modern Transport Bill. We know that the bill is intended to introduce an extension of compulsory motor insurance to cover the use of vehicles driving in autonomous mode and allow the Government to install electric and hydrogen charging points, creating a network across the UK. The bill will apply to the jurisdictions of England, Wales and Scotland, and the Government will apply for consent for enactment in Northern Ireland.

Whilst we await with interest the draft bill, its predecessor (the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill) was poorly drafted and received much criticism. Prior to the dissolution of parliament for the general election, that bill was at committee stage and a significant number of amendments had been suggested dealing with issues such as the sharing and protection of data, recovery rights etc. It remains to be seen whether this bill will include those amendments when it is introduced to Parliament.

Together with the Space Industry Bill, the reintroduction of these measures reaffirms the commitment of the Government to establishing the UK as a centre of technological excellence.

4. The Courts Bill

The background briefing paper to the speech for this bill confirms that it will put an end to direct cross examination of domestic violence victims by their attackers and allow the use of virtual hearings. It will introduce digital services to allow businesses to pursue debt cases more expeditiously and allow fixed penalty matters to be dealt with more efficiently.

Interestingly, there is no reference whatsoever to the Briggs online court, although it does include the comment; “by making better use of technology and modernizing working practices, will result in steady state savings to the taxpayer of £226 million once the reforms are implemented.” It is not yet clear whether such savings relate to those expected from the introduction of the online court but that would seem highly likely. The MOJ is committed to the online court which will undoubtedly bring benefits in terms of access to justice and the cost of access to justice. This bill applies to England and Wales, although parts will apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

5. The Data Protection Bill

This bill is described as “a new law that will ensure that the United Kingdom retains its world-class regime protecting personal data.” Whilst the bill is yet to be issued for review, it implements and builds on the EU General Data Protection Regulation so that the UK will remain compliant whilst still a member of the EU and presumably beyond.

The bill deals with a number of key points, such as the entitlement of a teenager to ask for their social media history to be permanently deleted when they reach the age of 18, as well as the general right to be forgotten as recognised in the case of Google Spain –v- AEPDF and Mario Costeja Gonzalez. It will also seek to implement rules surrounding the acquisition, use and storage of personal data in the new digital age, reinforcing a commitment to technological advancement.

Commentators have raised concern over the EU General Data Protection Regulation’s impact on the processing of personal data for the prevention and detection of fraudulent claims. We await the bill with interest to see if these issues have been addressed and will report back as soon as more information becomes available. This bill will apply to the whole of the UK.

6. The Goods Mortgages Bill

This bill seeks to repeal the Bills of Sale Acts and replace them with a new statute applying to situations where consumers can mortgage their property, such as a log book loan on their car. Such schemes have always been considered to be unfair as they tend to target financially vulnerable members of society. They have also caused insurers issues when dealing with total loss claims and the clearing of salvaged vehicles.

Whilst the provisions of the bill are yet to be released, and whilst the bill is purported to include welcome safeguards for vulnerable consumers, including those inadvertently buying a vehicle subject to a log book loan without notice of the finance agreement, it remains to be seen whether this will provide insurers with a more simplified process for dealing with claims. The bill will also reduce the burden on those issuing such loans by removing the need to register the loan with the High Court. This is expected to save £2 million a year and the intention is for those savings to be passed onto consumers, although it remains to be seen if that will be the case.

Brexit

It cannot be a surprise that the main thrust of the Queen’s speech focused on Brexit, with a number of bills announced to facilitate a smooth withdrawal from the EU. Bills such as the Repeal Bill, Customs Bill, Trade Bill, Immigration Bill, Fisheries Bill, Agriculture Bill, Nuclear Safeguards Bill, and International Sanctions Bill have all been introduced to protect the UK’s industry, infrastructure and community as it leaves the EU. It remains to be seen whether these bills will pave the way for a smooth withdrawal and preserve the UK’s relationships with its European partners as it re-establishes self-determination over these key issues, as is no doubt the intention. The devil will be very much in the detail.

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Can we help?

It is of course early days and the full contents of the bills are awaited. We will be keeping a watching brief and will report back as soon as there are any further developments. In the meantime, should you wish to discuss this in more detail, or would like assistance with any other matter, please do not hesitate to get in touch.