Jack Straw certainly seems pretty obsessed by the whole issue of banning referral fees for accident claims – though he didn’t seem to notice any problem he was Home Secretary. Could it that he’s really embarrassed by the Labour Party’s position – according to the daily Telegraph the Labour Party apparently received had over £355,000 in personal injury referral fees from accident claim lawyers Flint Bishop – who paid a £250 referral fee whenever it received a injury compensation referral from the Labour Party.
Remarkably, this injury claim referral fee arrangement appeared on the Labour Party’s own website – where party members were recommended onto what appears to be the website of an affiliated organisation, Labour Legal Services who in turn asked members to get in touch with the Derby-based personal injury solicitors.
Is Jack Straw just feeling guilty – or, is it pure hypocrisy?
The latest stage in the unfolding saga of accident claim referral fees, and government plans to ban them, came in the form of an admission by Darren Werth, who is the chairman of the Claims Standards Council [the trade association for claims management companies] that a number of leading claims management companies have struck deals with the solicitors firms to transform into what is referred as an alternative business structure [also known as an ABS] in early 2012.
In an attempt to get round the proposed referral fee ban for accident claims, these claims management companies will, in effect, transform into the marketing and advertising wings of the solicitors practices in question.
However, formation of ABS businesses can’t go ahead, following the introduction of The Legal Services Act, until a licence to authorise the creation of ABS structures is granted to the Solicitors Regulation Authority – which authority has been delayed.
The Government’s Minister of Justice, Jonathan Djanogly, welcomed the plan to merge law firms and claims management companies, and was positive, in particular, about the way in which such mergers would bring claims management companies [which are currently regulated directly by the Ministry of Justice] under the control of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Interestingly, Mr. Djanogly seemed to rule out the possibility of making the payment of accident claims referral fees by personal injury solicitors a criminal offence – accepting that, in reality, the criminal law burden of proof would make successful prosecutions for pain or receiving referral fees for injury compensation claims difficult.
However, uncertainty remains – in particular about the possible timescale for such a ban, and on the definition of a referral fee itself.