Cantillon: Shatter move may sideline injuries board

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has, as expected, pushed ahead with higher monetary jurisdictions in the District and Circuit Courts

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has, as expected, pushed ahead with higher monetary jurisdictions in the District and Circuit Courts

Thu, Jul 18, 2013, 01:00

The Minister for Justice has, as expected, pushed ahead with higher monetary jurisdictions in the District and Circuit Courts despite warnings from the insurance industry and the chairwoman of the Injuries Board Dorothea Dowling that it will push up premiums.

The Minster mounted robust defence of his position yesterday during the committee stages of the Courts and Civil Law Bill, asserting there was no basis to the claim that higher jurisdictions would lead to higher awards.

“There is no research to indicate that claim is correct. It is simply a claim that is made,” he told the Dáil. It appears he has chosen instead to put his faith in the Circuit judiciary to ensure there is no unwarranted inflation of awards.

His opponents will no doubt fulminate over the Minister’s dismissal of the arguments, which they claim are backed up by a number of studies including those by the Competition Authority and the Legal Costs Working Group. But Mr Shatter has covered his tracks well with the nicely qualified “no real research” put down. More importantly the Minster seems to have either not understood or chosen to ignore the nub of the argument forwarded by Dowling and others, which is that awards will create a perverse incentive for people to opt out of the lowest costs route to settling claims, which is the injuries board.

The board has set tariffs for compensation which means that in uncontested cases there is no need to go to the courts to determining compensation keeping legal costs to a minimum as a result. It was successful in part because the alternative – going to the High Court – was potentially very expensive. Plaintiffs may now be tempted to seek higher awards in the Circuit Courts resulting in more fees, more costs and higher premiums.

It is to be hoped the Minister’s trust in the Circuit Court judiciary to stop this is well founded, and the best way to do so is to ensure that there is little daylight between the Circuit Court’s and injuries board’s awards.

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