Senior judges argue against proposed guidelines on personal injury awards

Judicial Council guidelines would lead to reductions in personal injury awards

A meeting of the council involving up to 160 judges to discuss the proposals   was adjourned to Saturday next in the face of judicial unease, it is understood. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

A meeting of the council involving up to 160 judges to discuss the proposals was adjourned to Saturday next in the face of judicial unease, it is understood. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

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A number of senior higher court judges have circulated memos to colleagues arguing against proposed guidelines that would lead to reductions in personal injury awards.

The guidelines were produced by a seven-judge committee of the Judicial Council, which was chaired by the president of the High Court, Ms Justice Mary Irvine.

A meeting of the council involving up to 160 judges to discuss the proposals, held remotely on February 5th, was adjourned to Saturday next because judges wanted more time to consider the proposals, it is understood.

Since then a number of memos have been circulated privately by judges to colleagues arguing against the proposed guidelines – including one from a judge of the Court of Appeal.

A collective memo from a number of judges experienced in personal injury cases arguing against, and a number of individual contributions have also been shared. Not a single memo in favour has emerged.

Insurance costs

The Government is hoping that guidelines produced by the council will see personal injury awards fall and that this in turn will lead to a reduction in insurance costs.

When the council met remotely on February 5th, a vote on whether that meeting should decide on adopting the guidelines, or defer the matter to a later date, was tied.

The draft was circulated to judges on February 1st. Some felt they needed more time to consider and exactly half of them voted against deciding on them on that day.

A casting vote by Chief Justice Frank Clarke then deferred the matter to this coming Saturday.

In one memo, a High Court judge argued the guidelines could see injured people getting awards that fall “significantly short” of what could be regarded as fair and reasonable.

The judge said the suggested “recalibration” of compensation had gone too far and that younger people with certain injuries and disabilities would be particularly unfairly treated.

A Court of Appeal judge questioned claims that whiplash awards in the State are significantly higher than those in Northern Ireland or England and Wales, querying whether cost of living differences had been taken into account.

Tighter limits

Saying he would not vote for the draft guidelines, the judge, who is highly regarded by colleagues, questioned whether the council had the statutory authority to reduce awards.

The unpublished draft guideline limit judicial discretion, set tighter limits on awards for specific injuries and could lead to earlier and cheaper settlements, and cut legal costs.

Solicitor Stuart Gilhooly, a former president of the Law Society, said judges must have enough discretion to ensure that victims are properly compensated. A one-size-fits-all solution will not work, he said.

However, the pro-change Alliance for Insurance Reform, which wants to see awards cut by up to 80 per cent, said guidelines are “central to insurance reform”.

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