New portal for for personal injury victims must not act as barrier to justice, says law firm boss

THE new Government must overcome a “multiplicity of problems” to ensure a new online portal does not act as a barrier for personal injury victims who are seeking justice, according to the boss of a Yorkshire law firm.

Shirley Woolham
Shirley Woolham

Shirley Woolham, the chief executive of Wakefield-based Minster Law, said the plan to move small personal injury claims online was sensible, but the development of the portal had been dogged by “distrust between the various stakeholders”.

She said there was a high risk of serious “customer detriment” after the portal goes live in 2020.

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Ms Woolham said: “Nobody wants to see injured customers fending for themselves, or just giving up and living with the consequences of their injury.

Shirley Woolham

“It is incumbent on the Ministry of Justice to bring the claimant sector into the process and work with us and our insurer colleagues to resolve the multiplicity of problems that are emerging.”

Before the General Election was called, the Government revealed that it expected to introduce changes to the personal injury claims process in April 2020.

Under the changes, people with small claims will be able to make their claim directly with insurers through an online portal.

Ms Woolham added: “Customers must be confident the small claims track portal works for them.

“We all want to share in the success of the new platform and deliver a great service to customers, but customers’ interests must be at the heart of the programme.

“Our own investment in digital support for customers has underlined the vital future role digital will play in delivering low cost access to justice.

“To get it right, however, has taken us several years of effort and investment, including rigorous customer testing. The lesson for the Government’s LiP portal is: don’t foist it on the public until it is ready.”

She added “It’s not OK for the portal to simply function. It must be exceptional in respect of the user experience and claimant journey to ensure it does not serve as a barrier to claimants who are ‘time-poor’ or less confident in using online services.”

The changes will also affect the amount of compensation claimants receive and include tariffs for some whiplash injuries from road traffic accidents, in response to a rise in fraudulent claims.

The whiplash tariffs and personal injury discount rate changes are all part of the Civil Liability Act 2018. It followed concerns that an “epidemic” of whiplash claims had been pushing up motorists’ insurance costs

.The Ministry of Justice is currently in “Purdah” because of the General Election.

Shirley Woolham became the chief executive of Minster Law last year. The Wakefield-based firm is a personal injury specialist.

Ms Woolham believes her sector must make access to services as easy as possible.

Speaking in 2018, she told The Yorkshire Post “The answer is not to stick a digital portal in front of everyone, give them a pat on the head and tell them to go off and do it themselves.”Ms Woolham was the first person in her family to go to university. She is now one of a tiny number of women who have risen to the top of the legal sector.