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Book review: Kerry Underwood on Personal Injury Small Claims Portals

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Stephen Hines reviews Kerry Underwood’s three-volume guide on all aspects of funding, small claims, the portals and fixed costs.

I am not at all familiar with Kerry Underwood’s work. I have never met him, and have never (knowingly) read one of his books, blogs or tweets. After reading the first part of his new three-volume book, I had to ask myself ‘Where have I been?’.

This book is unlike any other book I have ever read. It is jam-packed with useful, insightful and intelligent content.

kerry underwood book cover

The book contains a huge amount of material, including rules, practice directions, pre-action protocols, and Kerry’s thoughts, experiences and predictions in relation to the topics covered. It also contains many useful precedents.

My first and abiding impression of all three volumes is that they are a collection of ‘notes to self’. I do not mean that pejoratively – such notes are amongst the most useful things I ever write down. That approach accords with the need to be concise when tweeting (I understand Kerry is a frequent tweeter) and it makes the message (whatever it might be) easily digestible. I initially found it very difficult to access these volumes – I admit that my mind, and my practice, do not work in the same way as this book does. I am used to the structure of the White Book, for example, with its useful paragraph numbers and footnotes.

Much of what Kerry writes I agree with (for what it’s worth). For example, when talking about the apparent conflict between the Court of Appeal cases of Qader v Esure [2016] EWCA Civ 1109 (which says that the fixed costs in CPR 45 do not apply to cases allocated to the multi-track) on the one hand and Sharp v Leeds City Council [2017] EWCA Civ 33 (in which the Court of Appeal decided that the costs of pre-action disclosure applications made in portal exit cases are fixed by CPR 45 section IIIA) on the other, Kerry asserts: ‘Sharp is right and Qader is wrong….’

Later, he poses the question: ‘Is an allocation hearing an interim hearing?’. Kerry explains he asked the question on Twitter, with a promise of a mention in his book for any answers received. True to his word, the responses are reproduced here, followed by Kerry’s conclusion that ‘So no one knows. I am glad of that…’.

There are similar postscripts and comments in various places throughout the volumes (along with smiley face emojis, even). I find that these things give this book a human and contemporary feel.

The book also reflects what I expect is Kerry’s straightforward, pragmatic nature. In volume 1, chapter 12 ‘Running Personal Injury Claims in the Small Claims Track’, Kerry talks, amongst other things, about his and his firm’s experiences of running personal injury small claims cases. Commenting on the Prisons and Courts Bill, he states that claimants ‘… will no longer get proper compensation for soft tissue injuries’, and points out that ‘One of the unanswered questions is whether clients will simply seek to deal with matters themselves if they have to pay lawyers a considerable percentage of damages’.

I found it refreshing that Kerry chose to go against the clamour of the claimant PI fraternity of the whiplash reforms debate by dismissing the argument that the reforms will impede access to justice. He says: ‘I do not believe that this will happen’, and gives the situation in the Republic of Ireland as a reason to support his view.

I doubt it was ever the intention that these volumes would be quoted in court as authoritative commentary like, for example, Cook on Costs is. As explained by Kerry himself under the title ‘How to use this book and the related blog’ (page 11), ‘Readers will obtain far greater value from this book by referring to the post on my blog’, which can hardly be done in a court room. But for any practitioner who buys it, this is a title which will no doubt be thoroughly thumbed, post-it-noted and highlighted to the hilt. I am certain that I will be doing just the same with my copies.

Stephen Hines is a barrister and owner of Citygate Chambers.

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