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Lord Justice Jackson’s Preliminary Report on Civil Litigation Costs reaches a “tentative conclusion” that: “It seems to me to be in the public interest to promote a substantial extension of BTE insurance, especially insurance in the category BTE1 [Before-the-Event legal expense insurance where insurers pay solicitors to act for the insured when a claim arises]. The cost of litigation in any year by the few insured who need to bring or defend claims will then be born by the many who do not”. The Report records the Bar’s CLAF Group proposal that BTE insurance should be compulsory for motorists (to cover themselves and anyone they may injure), employers and occupiers of buildings (again to cover themselves, employees, visitors or customers). Jackson LJ states that this proposal “merits serious consideration”. The impact of such a proposal if implemented would be, by implication, to largely kill off CFAs and ATE insurers.
In a previous posting I wrote on the subject of Jackson LJ’s proposals for ending two-way costs shifting and moving to one-way costs shifting, at least for personal injury work. The Report comments: “It is, however, worth noting that if cost shifting against claimants were to be abolished, the main purpose of ATE insurance premiums would also disappear”.
Jackson LJ’s expresses the view: “If any layer of activity can be removed from the process (and insurance against adverse costs liability is one layer of activity), it may be thought that this will serve the public interest”. ATE insurers have previously been very successful in lobbying to protect their place in the current costs system. They may well have their work cut out now to maintain the status quo.
Even if costs shifting were to remain unaltered, Jackson LJ nevertheless is considering: “whether success fees and ATE premiums should continue to be recoverable under costs orders”. This would potentially return the position to the pre-April 2000 one where any success fee or ATE premium was payable out of the claimant’s damages. One option that Jackson LJ seems to be considering, and for which he asked for further assistance at the Sweet and Maxwell Conditional Fee Agreement Conference in May, is whether to increase damages to a level that enables a return to the 25% cap on the amount of damages that solicitors can take from their client’s damages, so that claimants would be no worse off than under the current system.