Judges to have insurance award guidelines committee as Bill passed by Seanad
Judicial Council Bill deals with conduct of judges and disciplinary measures
The Bill now goes to the Dáil and Minister of State Michael D’Arcy said once the Bill was enacted it would be for the judiciary to establish the council and the personal injuries guidelines committee. Photograph: Collins Courts
Reform of the level of damages awarded in personal injuries cases has moved a step closer after the Seanad passed legislation establishing a new judicial council.
The Judicial Council Bill, first proposed 20 years ago, deals with judicial discipline and allegations of misconduct. It also includes provisions for a committee to advise the council and redraw guidelines on levels of personal injury payouts. The aim is to ensure consistency in court awards.
The legislation comes amid growing concern and increased debate about the impact on businesses and householders of rising insurance premium costs, fraudulent and exaggerated claims, and recent revelations that court awards in Ireland are more than four times the payout in the UK for similar soft tissue injuries.
Minister of State Michael D’Arcy, who has responsibility for insurance, said bringing awards in line with other jurisdictions “is the single most essential challenge which must be overcome if there is to be a sustainable reduction in insurance costs”.
The Bill now goes to the Dáil and Mr D’Arcy said once the Bill was enacted it would be for the judiciary to establish the council and the personal injuries guidelines committee. He said the developments should take place in parallel and he hoped the judiciary could target an end of year completion date for an initial set of guidelines.
The Minister acknowledged it might be an ambitious timeline but “because of the urgency of the situation, particularly in relation to minor soft tissue injuries, every effort should be made to try and achieve this objective”.
Mr D’Arcy said he hoped the guidelines would result in lowering award levels, and the insurance industry would be expected to take account of such reductions in its pricing.
A series of amendments were brought to Cabinet this week by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan which give effect to recommendations of the Personal Injuries Commission, chaired by Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns.
The guidelines are to be reviewed on a three-year basis.
Former minister for justice and Independent Senator Michael McDowell said he attempted to bring in similar legislation but “didn’t receive the requisite cooperation” from the judiciary and was “left high and dry”.
He said the courts and Civil Liabilities Act drove down premiums for a while but “began to degrade” because there was “a resentment in the legal profession and in some areas of the judiciary itself to the measures”.
He said some of the judiciary thought it “draconian” that litigants faced penalties and the loss of their entire claim if any of it was deliberately exaggerated.
Labour Seanad leader Ivana Bacik said the establishment of a judicial council was important because it included a framework for the structuring of discretion on sentencing.
She thanked the Minister for accepting her amendment that guidance would be given to judges on conduct of jury trials and criminal proceedings.
The Government was defeated by 17 to 14 votes on an amendment from Independent Senator Lynn Ruane which provided for a review of mandatory minimum sentences. Ms Bacik said she hoped it would also be accepted by the Dáil.