Thames water – fine – 22 march 2017

Thames Water have been hit with a record £20m fine for huge sewage leaks.

The fine was imposed on 22 March 2017 following a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency for numerous offences in 2013 and 2014 at sewage treatment works at Aylesbury, Didcot and Little Marlow and a sewage pumping station at Littlemore.

Huge leaks of untreated sewage totalling 1.4 bn litres occurred into the Thames which spread to its tributaries and onto land. The leaks had serious impact on residents, farmers and wildlife (killing birds and fish). It wiped out a season for commercial cray fishermen.

By way of background, Thames Water made an operating profit of £742m in 2015-16 and paid out £82m in dividends to its shareholders.

In 2013 The Observer revealed the 10 biggest water companies were the most persistent polluters of England’s rivers and beaches committing more than 1,000 incidents between 2005 and 2013, but were fined a total of just £3.5m.

It was noted there was continual failure to report incidents and a history of non-compliance.

Judge Francis Sheridan in this case said of the level of the fine that it should not be cheaper to offend than take the appropriate cautions, and therefore, made the find sufficiently large that Thames Water would get the message.

Fines have increased since the change in the sentencing guidelines. However this is the largest fine imposed to date.

Pre Action Protocol for Debt Claims to come into force

The Ministry of Justice has published the Pre Action Protocol for Debt Claims which is to come into force on 1 October 2017.

The Damages (Personal Injury) Order 2017 (2017 No 206)

This formalised the change to the discount rate from 2.5% to -0.75% which came into effect on 20 March 2017.

Extension of Fixed Fees

There is commentary on the keynote speech of Lord Justice Jackson at the White Paper costs conference where he was discussing his current review of the extension of fixed costs.

Following the speech it was stated there can be no doubt that Lord Justice Jackson is to look to extend fixed fees across the fast track. He has repeatedly stated this is the missing piece from his original reforms.

The likely implementation date is April or October 2018, once decided.

SRA Referral fee probe over holiday claims

It should be noted there are two areas which fall outside fixed costs in personal injury, which are noise induced hearing loss, and holiday claims.

ABTA have called for a reform of civil procedure rules to impose fixed recoverable costs for holiday sickness claims valued at less than £25,000 following a recent increase in claims far exceeding the recorded incidents of illness in resorts.

It is understood the government are concerned that claims management companies see holiday sickness cases as a partial saviour if whiplash claims are to become more restricted.

The SRA wants copies of letter templates used by firms when dealing with gastric illness claims as well as details of the number of referrals in the past two years. Solicitors are being told investigation is necessary to rule out misconduct. Payment or receipt of referral fees has been banned for personal injury claims since 2013.