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Judge warns minister to keep out of injury payout review

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Ms Justice Mary Irvine. Photo: Collins Courts

Ms Justice Mary Irvine. Photo: Collins Courts

Ms Justice Mary Irvine. Photo: Collins Courts

A Supreme Court judge has told the Government minister tasked with insurance reform not to interfere with her review of personal injury payouts.

In an extraordinary letter, Justice Mary Irvine insisted she would not be influenced by the cost of compensation on businesses or community and volunteer groups.

The judge was recently appointed as the chair of the Judicial Council's Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee in line with legislation enacted by Minister of State Michael D'Arcy.

In a letter obtained by the Irish Independent under the Freedom of Information Act, Mr D'Arcy congratulated Ms Justice Irvine on her appointment and noted there was "considerable" public interest in the Judicial Council's plans to "recalibrate" the awards for personal injury claims.

In his letter dated December 9, 2019, the minister, who is also the chair of the Cost of Insurance Working Group (CIWG), said he fully understands the "separations of powers and the independence of the judiciary".

Mr D'Arcy also noted that the Personal Injuries Commission, which he established, found personal injury awards were much higher in Ireland than the UK and recommend that Judicial Council should "address this disparity".

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Michael D'Arcy. Photo: Damien Eagers

Michael D'Arcy. Photo: Damien Eagers

Michael D'Arcy. Photo: Damien Eagers

"The purpose of this letter is therefore only to indicate the CIWG is available to offer whatever assistance it can should you decided to consult with it," Mr D'Arcy said.

However, three days later, Justice Irvine wrote back saying: "I regret that I should have to write a letter such as this in reply."

Justice Irvine insisted it was not for the minister to "advise or urge upon" her committee how it should "discharge its obligations".

"In light of your letter it is necessary to emphasise that the purpose of the legislation passed by the Oireachtas is to be found in the legislation itself and that the role of the committee, as therein provided for, is not to recalibrate damages in a manner favourable to any particular interest group as would appear to be your understanding," the judge added.

Justice Irvine said her committee would continue to review compensation payments while being at "all times mindful of the rights of persons injured through the negligence of third parties".

The clash is the latest in an ongoing row between the judiciary and the Government over plans to reduce the cost of insurance.

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In November, days before his letter to Justice Irvine, Mr D'Arcy publicly said the Judicial Council's review of compensation would bring payouts in line with those awarded in the UK.

He said guidelines for compensation in the five most common types of personal injury cases will be reduced by between 15pc and 20pc by March this year. However, Chief Justice Frank Clarke hit out at what he described as "recent publicity" around the Judicial Council's committee on personal injuries.

In a statement, Justice Clarke said: "I feel that it is incumbent on me to emphasise the total independence which the law gives to that committee subject only to such directions as the Judicial Council itself may give."

He also said there was "no basis" for suggesting the committee would pick the five most common injuries or finish its work by March.

The Judicial Council was formally established in December last year following the passage of legislation through the Dáil.

The aim of the council is to oversee and review the work of the judiciary.

The legislation specifically required the council to form a committee to address awards given in personal injury cases.

The Government has been under pressure to address the rising cost of public liability insurance for businesses.

There has been a wave of businesses, mostly in the leisure industry, which have closed due to the rising cost of insurance.

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