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Martin urged to cap awards amid judicial guidelines unrest


Ross McCarthy: ‘Judges have been given nicknames reflective of their generosity’

Ross McCarthy: ‘Judges have been given nicknames reflective of their generosity’

Ross McCarthy: ‘Judges have been given nicknames reflective of their generosity’

A business group has pressed the Government to legislate for caps on personal injury damages amid concern reductions in award levels being considered by the Judicial Council will not go far enough.

Awards for minor whiplash injuries would be cut by up to 50pc under proposals contained in a report by a judicial committee. This falls well short of an 80pc reduction sought by groups campaigning for insurance reform.

In a letter to Taoiseach Michéal Martin and copied to other ministers yesterday, the chairman of ISME, which represents small and medium enterprises, called on Mr Martin to “assert the right of the Oireachtas to legislate”.

Ross McCarthy expressed concerns about the methodology used by the Judicial Council’s personal injuries guidelines committee, including what he called the “spurious” use of Northern Ireland data in its considerations.

The letter claimed the Government had “a serious issue in its hands with a cohort of the judiciary”, citing Court of Appeal judge Seamus Noonan’s observation some judges were viewed as more generous than others, resulting in varying outcomes depending on the “draw”. Mr McCarthy claimed lawyers had given some judges nicknames “reflective of their generosity”.

The Judicial Council, made up of all 166 judges, met last week to discuss the committee’s report, which has yet to be published. It deferred a decision on ratifying its recommendations and will meet again next Saturday.

The issue of whether it would be preferable for the judiciary to intervene on award amounts or for caps to be introduced through legislation has been the subject of debate for several years.

In a 2018 report, the Personal Injuries Commission (PIC) suggested a judicial council, which had yet to be formed at that point, could compile guidelines on appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury. It found damages for soft-tissue injuries were 4.4 times higher than in England and Wales.

A subsequent report by the Law Reform Commission found legislating to limit award levels would be allowed under the Constitution. However, it also said it would be entirely appropriate and desirable that the judicial guidelines, when they emerge, be given some time to be applied in practice.

In his letter, Mr McCarthy expressed concern that the guidelines committee had reportedly found the PIC’s findings could not be regarded as a reliable indicator of award levels because its conclusions were primarily based on settlements, not awards.

He queried the accuracy of this conclusion.

Mr McCarthy questioned why Northern Irish awards data had been considered by the committee as part of international comparisons, saying there had traditionally been a lower level of intensity in roads policing there compared with Ireland, Wales and England and this was reflected in road safety statistics.

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He also said the committee’s report would be “obsolete” if it does not reference incoming UK reforms which will slash awards for minor whiplash far below the levels reported by the PIC.

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