Proposed amendment from Lord Woolf to remove the introduction of a tariff system for whiplash injuries within the Civil Liability Bill defeated.

The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, proposed an amendment removing the existing Clause 2 from the Bill, which effectively introduces the proposed tariff system regulated by the Lord Chancellor.

The proposed amendment was defeated 218 to 205.

Giving the close nature and split along party lines of the vote, combined with the critical nature of comments previously made by the Justice Committee about the overall package of small claims reform, this suggests that the Bill may not have a smooth progression through the House of Commons.

Proposed amendment

Lord Woolf had tabled an amendment inserting the following clause:

"For the avoidance of doubt, damages for whiplash injuries are to be set by the judiciary in accordance with the 14th edition of the Judicial College Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases or any subsequent revision to those guidelines.”

In effect, the proposed change would maintain the current position, specifically that the judiciary would be responsible for determining damages. Lord Woolf stated the introduction of a tariff system would offend "an important principle of justice, because it reduces the damages that will be received by an honest litigant because of the activities of dishonest litigants."

Lord Woolf emphasised that he was broadly in support of many of the measures and initiatives included within the Bill such as the introduction of the requirement that a medical report be obtained before settling a claim.

However, he expressed concern that the Bill "is motivated, at least in part, not by the normal principles of justice as I understand them but by saving insurers money, in the belief that this will result in a reduction in premiums for motorists who are insured when they come to pay for their insurance."

Lord Woolf also stated his view that "in addition, the present proposals have the defect that they are unlikely to deter a dishonest claimant from making a false claim. All that he needs to do to achieve that purpose is to make a false claim that is outside the limits of the damages now proposed."

It should be noted that Lord Woolf did not comment on the proposed changes to the small claims track limit as this does not fall within the debate on the Civil Liability Bill.

What next?

The Civil Liability Bill will now proceed to the third reading in the House of Lords where further amendments may be made. Once this third reading is concluded, the Bill will be sent to the House of Commons, where it is expected that it will undergo further scrutiny. It is possible that the first reading within the House of Commons will take place within the next 4 to 8 weeks.