Judges decline changing proposed guidelines for personal injuries awards

Concerns raised included perceived interference with independence of judiciary

A vote on whether to accept the new guidelines for personal injuries awards in the courts is now expected to take place next Saturday among all judges. Photograph: iStock

A vote on whether to accept the new guidelines for personal injuries awards in the courts is now expected to take place next Saturday among all judges. Photograph: iStock

 

A committee of senior judges has declined to make any changes to proposed guidelines for personal injuries awards in the courts, despite concerns raised by some judges that they are too low.

The plan for new guidelines is intended to reduce personal injuries awards in the courts and is part of Government efforts to reduce the costs of insurance.

Two previous meetings of the State’s judges adjourned without approving the new guidelines, after a number of judges said they wanted more time to study the proposed new regime, and others expressed further concerns.

Since then some judges have circulated memos to their colleagues outlining their concerns. Some related to the level of the awards, while others were concerned with perceived interference with the independence of the judiciary. A collective memo from a number of judges experienced in personal injury cases argued against the plan, and a number of individual contributions have also been shared amongst the judiciary. Some lawyers say that reducing the amount of awards will not necessarily lead to a reduction in insurance premiums.

Committee of judges

However, it is understood that the committee of judges which produced the guidelines has declined to make any changes in response to the criticisms. It has commissioned a report from the economist Colm McCarthy to support its arguments.

A vote on whether to accept the new guidelines is now expected to take place next Saturday among all judges. Some judges say that significant opposition to the new guidelines remains among the state’s 160 judges. At an earlier meeting, sources say, 50 per cent of judges were in favour of deferring a decision, an indication of widespread unease about the plans.

Sources say that District Court judges are worried about a significant increase in their workload if the new guidelines are adopted, as it would mean many personal injuries cases currently held in the Circuit Court would instead be lodged in the District Court.

The new recommendations have been drawn up by a seven-judge committee of the council chaired by the president of the High Court, Mary Irvine, and would, if adopted, lead to a significant reduction in some types of personal injury awards, most particularly in the case of minor soft tissue type injuries.