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Thursday 23 January 2020

Insurance scammers facing 10 years in jail for perjury

Government will fast-track law aimed at crackdown on 'compensation culture'

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Hugh O'Connell, Amy Molloy and Cormac McQuinn

New laws to crack down on 'compo culture' by jailing people who lie under oath for up to 10 years could be passed by TDs within days.

The Government is moving to fast-track legislation that will seek to put the offence of perjury on a statutory footing for the first time.

In recent days, the Irish Independent has exposed how some lawyers and GPs are fuelling compensation culture by actively encouraging patients to bring claims.

The investigation also uncovered how some solicitors are asking doctors to amend medical reports for personal injury claims.

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The new laws, which could come into force early next year, will see people who lie under oath or misrepresent themselves in court facing prosecution. Sanctions include a fine of up to €100,000 or a jail term of up to 10 years.

Meanwhile the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, which handles complaints against lawyers, said it was investigating a small number of misconduct claims about solicitors.

The perjury legislation has strong cross-party support and has already passed the Seanad.

Perjury is currently a common-law offence but levels of prosecutions have been low, with only a handful of people dealt with by the courts over the past decade.

The legislation is being backed by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin and will be debated at second stage in the Dáil tomorrow.

Responding to Fianna Fáil's criticism of the slow pace of reform in the insurance sector, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan told the Irish Independent last night in relation to the legislation: "I will be leading the debate and it can be passed in a few days if Fianna Fáil support it."

The Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 has been championed by Independent Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, who said it would be "very, very significant" for insurance claims.

The Government has amended the original bill proposed by Mr Ó Céidigh and adopted it as its own. Government amendments will extend the statutory offence of perjury to people who give evidence before commissions of investigation and tribunals of inquiry.

Many industry stakeholders, particularly in the business community, have called for new legislation to make it easier to prosecute people who lie under oath or in sworn affidavits.

The proposal has taken on new importance given the public outcry over the cost of insurance.

The Department of Justice has consulted with other government departments and the Attorney General Seamus Woulfe at regular intervals this year in a bid to get the draft legislation to a position where it can passed into law.

Mr Flanagan said the focus should be on passing the legislation as soon as possible.

Elsewhere, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA), the new body responsible for investigating complaints against legal professionals, said it was currently investigating a small number of misconduct complaints about solicitors.

Commenting on this newspaper's investigation - where we were contacted by a number of solicitors via a claims harvesting website - the LSRA said: "Where a solicitor is found to be accepting and paying for legal referrals from a personal injury website, this may itself constitute misconduct under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, and may result in a referral to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

"Legal practitioners are required to act with independence and integrity, act in the best interests of their clients, and maintain proper standards of work," the spokesperson added.

The Medical Council of Ireland also said it was willing to investigate any complaints which may be made about the findings of our investigation.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty, who lambasted insurance companies for their role in Ireland's compo culture when they appeared before an Oireachtas Committee, said legal and medical regulatory bodies needed to hold their members to account. He is calling them to also appear before the Oireachtas.

"Exaggerated claims are the exact same as fraudulent claims, and anyone who facilitates or assists them, they need to face law," he said.

Irish Independent

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