Tuesday 18 June 2019

Plan for judges to set injury payout guidelines is to be fast-tracked

Proposal: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Damien Eagers
Proposal: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Damien Eagers
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The Government is to fast-track changes to the law to allow for the establishment of a committee of judges to set guidelines for personal injury payouts.

It comes after judges shot down a previous stop-gap proposal by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan aimed at bringing down the size of awards for minor injuries.

A Government spokesman said the guiding principles of the proposed committee will be that "modest injuries should attract modest damages".

The committee would also promote the need for consistency in the level of personal injuries damages being awarded by the courts.

Mr Flanagan got Cabinet approval to prioritise the drafting of amendments to the Judicial Council Bill 2017 to provide for the establishment of the committee. Legislation for the setting up of a Judicial Council has stalled for long periods since it was first brought forward two years ago.

Mr Flanagan now hopes to get it over the line before the Dáil's summer recess.

Earlier this month, the Irish Independent revealed that Chief Justice Frank Clarke raised serious concerns about a previous proposal to set up an interim group to revise guideline award levels for less serious injuries such as whiplash.

It would have been made up of judges and officials from the Department of Justice and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB).

Mr Flanagan had wanted to set up the group as an interim measure pending the introduction of a Judicial Council.

However, after consultations with other judges, Mr Justice Clarke wrote to the minister to warn there were "very considerable legal difficulties" with that proposal.

He said it "would almost certainly lead to a succession of challenges".

Mr Flanagan has dropped the stop-gap measure in favour of fast-tracking amendments to allow for the setting up of the personal injuries guidelines committee within the framework of the Judicial Council. The amendments are to be moved in the Seanad.

They are to give effect to a recommendation of the Personal Injuries Commission, which suggested that the proposed Judicial Council should have a role in setting the guidelines for appropriate damages for various types of injuries.

The commission, chaired by Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, found that award levels for minor injuries in this country are almost five times higher than in the UK.

Irish Independent

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