Gardai to save €5m with claims system overhaul
GARDAI hope to save at least €5m a year in legal costs by moving compensation claims for injuries sustained while on duty out of the High Court.
Talks are already under way to streamline the system used to determine claims and replace the existing procedures with more streamlined measures.
Last year, the State paid out €7.7m to members of the force after receiving 194 claims for compensation.
It is expected that the new efficiency proposals will not affect the overall size of the compensation figure but claims will be sorted out more quickly and taking them out of the courts will also dramatically reduce the sums spent on lawyers.
The State Claims Agency has recently submitted proposals for an alternative scheme, which would be broadly similar to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board.
These are currently under discussion by the Department of Justice and garda management, in consultation with the staff associations in the force.
Sources said last night any legislation necessary to implement the changes would not involve a substantial bill and could be passed through the Oireachtas relatively quickly.
The Garda Siochana Compensation Acts provide for a scheme to make financial arrangements for gardai who have been maliciously injured during the course of duty -- or for their families if they have been killed in action.
But all cases must go to the High Court and can end up in a backlog, taking years to reach a conclusion.
Garda management has been told that, as a result of reductions in their budget for 2011, they must achieve savings of €20m through "efficiencies".
Senior officers believe that the introduction of a new agency can make a serious contribution to those savings.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said that after the conclusion of the discussions it was intended to bring forward the legislative proposals in the Dail.
There had been a shared view for some time, he added, that the existing scheme needed to be replaced with a more efficient process.
The Department of Defence managed to speed up an end to the long-running controversy over army deafness claims by transferring them out of the courts and arriving at settlements through assessment.
It is also intended to make savings in the legal aid schemes, with the criminal aid budget for 2011 being cut by €7m to €55m and the civil aid funding reduced by €100,000 to €24m.
This followed the signing of new regulations imposing a cut of 8pc in fees payable under the scheme on top of a previous fee cut of 10.5pc last year.
Further reform is planned with legislation currently being drafted to strengthen means testing provisions and, according to the Department of Justice, provide the basis for other initiatives in this area.