The principal function of the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee of the Judicial Council is to prepare and submit to the Board of the Council, for its review, draft Personal Injuries Guidelines within six months of its establishment, and from time to time to review those guidelines.
The Judicial Council Act 2019 provides that the Judicial Council nominate a date for establishment of the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee at its first meeting in accordance with Section 18 of the Judicial Council Act 2019. At that meeting on the 7th of February 2020, the Council nominated the 28th of April 2020 for the establishment of the Committee. Pursuant to the provisions of the Act, the first meeting will take place within one month of establishment and the draft guidelines will be prepared within six months of establishment.
The Act provides that the guidelines are to be prepared in accordance with Section 90 of the Act. This section requires the Committee, in preparing the guidelines, to have regard to:
- (i) the level of damages awarded for personal injuries by courts in the State;
- (ii) the level of damages awarded for personal injuries in courts in such places outside the State as the Committee or the Board considers relevant;
- (iii) the principles for the assessment and award of damages for personal injuries as determined by the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court
- (iv) the need to promote consistency in the level of damages awarded for personal injuries; and
- (v) such other factors as the Committee or the Board considers appropriate.
For the purpose of performing its functions, the Committee, under Section 18 of the Act, has been given the power to require persons in possession of records, documents or information which might assist it with its work to provide such records, documents or information. It has further been given the power to consult with such persons as it considers appropriate including the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and to conduct such research as it considers appropriate concerning the level of damages awarded by courts in and outside of the State and settlements of claims for personal injuries.
Recently, several state bodies have carried out work into the law on personal injuries, court awards and the costs of claims arising from personal injury. These include the Personal Injuries Commission, the Law Reform Commission as well as the Central Bank. What the Committee is required to do under the Act must, however, be distinguished from what has been done by other bodies to date. Its work is not inquisitorial in nature or designed to inform government policy. It would be entirely inappropriate and beyond the remit and power of the judiciary or the Committee to embark upon any such course.
This Committee is comprised of judges from each jurisdiction, nominated by the Chief Justice.
The judges who will be nominated to form that Committee upon its establishment are as follows:
- Ms Justice Mary Irvine (Chair), Supreme Court
- Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, Court of Appeal
- Mr Justice Michael MacGrath, High Court
- Mr Justice Senan Allen, High Court
- Judge Jacqueline Linnane, Circuit Court
- Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin, Circuit Court
- Judge Brian O'Shea, District Court
A Committee Designate comprising these judges has already started work in order that, once established, the Committee will be able to meet its obligations within the statutory time limits.
The Committee Designate is exceptionally cognisant of the need to ensure that the guidelines which it produces are anchored in reality. It is aware of the fact that there are many interest groups and indeed individuals who feel that the cost of insurance in this jurisdiction is prohibitive and that this is having a significant effect on their ability to trade profitably and in some cases to trade at all. Likewise, the Committee Designate is mindful of the position of those who consider that it is the level of the awards of damages made by the judiciary in personal injuries cases that has necessitated the significant increase in the premia payable by policy holders, in respect of certain types of insurance, in recent years.
Only a very small minority of the claims made seeking damages for personal injuries ever become the subject matter of an award of damages by a court. It is those awards that are core to the role of the Committee. The vast majority of claims are settled without recourse to the courts either as a result of an offer of settlement made by an insurance company or an award made by The Personal Injuries Assessment Board.
However, insofar as the awards of damages made by the judiciary might be said to guide the level of settlements made by insurance companies or the awards made by PIAB, it is vital for the Committee to obtain as much data as is necessary to ensure that that the guidelines which it prepares will, once applied, provide for a system of compensation wherein the awards made will be proportionate to the injury sustained and just and fair to both parties including those who sustain injuries through the wrongful acts of third parties whose actions are not indemnified under any policy of insurance.
In carrying out its functions, the Committee Designate will be aided by its ability to compare the awards made by courts in this jurisdiction in recent times with those that would likely have been made in respect of the same injuries had the claim been made in other jurisdictions during the same period, once satisfied that the comparator countries enjoy a relatively similar standard of living to that which pertains in Ireland.
It will undoubtedly be disappointing for many interested parties, particularly those who maintain that damages for particular types of injuries ought to be increased or decreased, to hear that the Committee Designate does not, at least at this point in time, consider that its task will be aided by meeting with or considering submissions from third parties other than PIAB. It is important that all such interested parties understand that the reason that the Committee designate has adopted this approach is because, having regard to its remit under the Judicial Council Act 2019, it considers that such submissions as might be made by those parties could not inform the basis for the guidelines it is required to prepare.
The ongoing work of the Committee Designate and the Committee once established will be updated from time to time on this website.