Judges vote to adopt new guidelines to reduce personal injury damages

Bizar Male

Judges have voted to adopt new guidelines aimed at reducing general damages awards for some personal injuries, particularly minor injuries, and ensuring awards are proportionate to the injuries sustained.

The majority of Judicial Council members, 146 of 168, participated in the virtual meeting on Saturday and 83 voted in favour, and 63 voted against, the guidelines.

Because a majority of those present voted in favour, the guidelines, prepared by the council’s Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee (PIGC), were adopted.

The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, will bring proposals to Cabinet on Tuesday on how to implement the guidelines, to take effect once the Minister commences section 99 of the 2019 Judicial Council Act.

They will replace the Book of Quantum (BOQ), which set general guidelines for the amounts to be awarded or assessed in personal injury claims.

While the courts will retain independence and discretion when awarding general damages, it will be mandatory for judges to assess damages having regard to the guidelines and they will have to specify, in judgments, their reasons for any departure from them.

Mc McEntee has said the changes will take place as soon as possible and she intends the guidelines will apply to all cases not yet assessed by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB). “This approach will ensure that the law is robust as we seek to reduce the cost of insurance,” she said.

The guidelines will not apply to litigants who have already rejected a PIAB offer as inadequate and gone to the courts.

Memos

A meeting of the council, first scheduled for February 5th , proceeded on Saturday having been twice adjourned after some judges said they had had insufficient time to consider the guidelines.

A number of memos circulated by some judges over the past few weeks, including the High Court’s Mr Justice Anthony Barr and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy of the Court of Appeal, raised various concerns. Those included whether the guidelines would lead to awards which insufficiently compensate some plaintiffs, whether the committee engaged in adequate consultation with interested and affected parties and the implications of what some described as “judge-made” law for judicial independence.

Those issues were responded to by the board of the council, comprising the presidents of all five court jurisdictions chaired by the Chief Justice, which urged support for the guidelines.

Sources say up to ten judges spoke at Saturday’s meeting, with about half in favour and half against.

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