Tuesday 15 October 2019

Recommendations to deal with compensation crisis not radical enough, business body says

Isme CEO Neil McDonnell
Isme CEO Neil McDonnell
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

SMALL firms lobby group ISME has complained that recommendations to deal with the compensation crisis in the courts is not radical enough.

The business body says it fundamentally disagrees with Mr Justice Kearns’ decision not to recommend a cap on awards.

This is despite the former president of the High Court admitting that that compensation levels for personal injuries have “got out of hand”.

In a report from Personal Injuries Commission, which Justice Kearns chaired, it is recommended that judges sort out the compensation claims crisis – in the hope that this will help lower insurance premiums.

Chief executive of the SME association Neil McDonnell said the commission was unable to explain why award levels in this country are almost five times those in Britain.

Mr Justice Kearns recommended judges come together under the guise of the new judicial council to recalibrate award levels for minor injuries would lead to more consistency in awards, and could lower them.

This is the key recommendation of the Personal Injuries Commission.

Legislation to set up the new judicial council is expected to be passed by the end of the year.

This is despite the former High Court president admitted that discrepancies in compensation levels awarded by judges “caused mystification to the public”.

But ISME questioned if judges are the right people to sort out the compensation crisis.

Mr McDonnell said the Personal Injuries Commission has failed “to justify its assertion that the judiciary is the logical agency” to address the issue of excessive awards.

“To suggest that judges acting alone are the solution to the problem is simply illogical.”

Mr McDonnell said that judges should be involved, but they should not be the sole arbiters of the new guidelines of compensation levels.

And ISME said it fundamentally disagreed with the move by the commission not to recommend a cap on awards. Instead, it recommended this matter should be examined by the Law Reform Commission.

The Supreme Court has already applied a cap on general damages for catastrophic injuries, Mr McDonnell said.

“Advices already received by ISME suggest that the Law Reform Commission would be unlikely to object to legislation capping general damages, but such consideration might take years to materialise. This would be disastrous for policy holders,” he added.

The business group also took issue with the Commission’s reject of replacing cash awards with vouched care. This “care-not-cash” operates in other countries.

Meanwhile, the Bar Council, which represents barristers, welcomed the Commission’s report, and said supported the idea of judges assessing awards and putting together new guidelines on their levels.

Chairman of the Bar Micheál P O’Higgins SC agreed with the views of the Commission that any proposal to cap the amount of damages which a court may award necessitates careful constitutional scrutiny by the Law Reform Commission.

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