The government and insurers negotiated a deal to cut personal injury legal costs in a series of emails prior to a summit at Downing Street, the High Court heard this morning. In its submission to a judicial review hearing, lawyers acting for the claimant lobby highlighted correspondence between the Cabinet Office and Association of British Insurers which led to a commitment from the government to reduce fixed recoverable costs. The hearing will decide if the government acted lawfully in deciding to reduce fixed fees in the RTA Portal before a wider consultation could be held. Paul Nicholls QC, representing the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said claimants were left out of discussions completely in the run-up to the insurers’ meeting with the prime minister on 14 February last year. Instead, a series of emails were sent to insurers, including one from the Cabinet Office which stated ‘this looks good, I think we’re getting close’. In his submission, Nicholls said: ‘The process involved consulting with insurers. It was not just saying “we’re abolishing referral fees – will it have any relevance?” The government came to a decision in the light of what the insurers say to it. The insurers are a party to the decision-making process. ‘It is more than consultation, it is a negotiation.’ Nicholls said this failure in the process meant the government ‘cannot be saved’ by the fact there was a later consultation as ‘by that time it was too late.’ But judges deciding to grant permission for a judicial review at the Royal Courts of Justice seemed unconvinced by elements of the argument. Mr Justice Cranston told Nicholls: ‘This is politics. This is negotiating. It happens all the time.’ Lord Justice Elias added: ‘Government would grind to a halt in every case if you say “you talked to x but you’ve not talked to me”.’ In his opening submission, James Eadie QC, representing the justice secretary, said claimants had failed to show why the government had to consult on this element of policymaking. He said: ‘There is no duty to consult as a necessity. That duty is contained and confined for good reason.’ The hearing comes two days after the government confirmed that fixed fees for low-value claims will fall from £1,200 to £500 from the end of April. APIL and the Motor Accidents Solicitors Society want the decision reviewed. The case was set to continue this afternoon, with judges expected to decide whether to proceed with a judicial review.
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