Wednesday 16 October 2019

'Real progress' on high whiplash awards expected early next year - Flanagan

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan expects to see action from the Judicial Council on the issue of high personal injury awards by “early next year”.

The council, which is in the process of being set up, has been tasked with “recalibrating” awards for less serious injuries, such as whiplash.

A report by the Personal Injuries Commission last year said compensation for whiplash claims in Ireland was over four times the level found in England and Wales.

“I am very keen that early next year we will see real progress on this important issue,” said Mr Flanagan.

The minister said there was an “urgent need to ensure a greater level of consistency and the bringing down of awards in some personal injury cases”.

He also expressed concern about revelations in an unpublished Mater Hospital study, which found over 90pc of whiplash patients failed to return for additional treatment once their legal action was completed.

The minister’s comments come amid ongoing concern that high awards are fuelling insurance premiums and forcing businesses to close.

They will heap pressure on the judiciary to move swiftly on the issue.

READ MORE: Insurance chief: judges too soft on bogus claims

Last week Chief Justice Frank Clarke said that in the rush to have the council up and running, it was important that shortcuts were not taken. He also called for the council to be properly resourced.

Some €1.25m was allocated towards the council in Tuesday’s Budget.

Mr Flanagan said he was confident the council would be established by the end of the year.

He described it as a landmark justice system reform which had been talked about for 20 years.

“I would hope that the council will at the very earliest date early in the new year deal urgently with the matter of personal injury claims and awards,” he said.

“Only this week we have seen a very concerning report on the matter of whiplash in the civil justice system and the ease with which whiplash injuries tend to become resolved when a claim is settled. This is a matter of concern.”

Mr Flanagan said he was “quite satisfied” the Chief Justice and his team were undertaking their roles in the establishment of the council “very seriously”.

READ MORE: Revealed: Big decrease in average size of personal injury awards

In a statement following the Budget, the Alliance for Insurance Reform said any “slippage” in the timeframe for setting up the council would be “intolerable for the small businesses and voluntary groups facing closure in the next few months”.

It said there could be no further delay to this “critical insurance reform action”.

The Justice Minister said that in addition to dealing with the injury awards issue, the council would have two other key functions.

“Firstly, it will ensure excellence of a world class nature across our judicial system. It will involve training and ensuring collaboration among members of the judiciary, the continuation of best practice [and] a complaints and disciplinary code,” said Mr Flanagan.

He said the development of sentencing guidelines for criminal cases was another important function.

“This again is in response to concern among many commentators and members of the public about a perceived lack of consistency in terms of sentencing,” he said.

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