'Something really has to be done' - Former High Court president speaks out against compensation culture

Former High Court president, Nicholas Kearns. Picture Conor McCabe

Something really has to be done now about our compensation culture, a senior judge has urged.

Former High Court president, Nicholas Kearns, is chair of the Personal Injuries Commission which has found that personal injury payouts here are 4.4 times higher than in Britain.

“I have reached a point, not only in my legal life but in my life generally, where I am convinced a moment has come in this country where something really has to be done about our compensation culture,” he said.

Mr Justice Kearns was speaking at a conference held by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board where research presented showed that over 80% of people believe there is a compensation culture in Ireland.

A key recommendation in the commission's report published last September is that a judicial council should be established to compile guidelines for personal injury awards.

When the report was published the Government said it was confident that proposed legislation establishing the council would be passed by the end of the year but that did not happen.

Mr Justice Kearns said the rate of reform had been too slow.

Small businesses are struggling because of the cost of cover. Some have closed down or are at the brink of closure. They are being besieged by personal injury claims and rising premiums.

The judge said those in a position to do something about the problem must “finally” get up and do something about it. “Those who deny that there is any significant problem should go and join the flat earth society or a climate change denier programme.”

He had noticed that in recent days there had been “spring-like” efforts to progress the Judicial Council Bill. It completed committee stage in the Senate earlier this month and it was intended to bring forward amendments at report stage after Easter.

He hoped one amendment would be to write in a specific power of a judicial council to issue guidelines.

Let's do this and let's do it now and let's have absolute clarity that this is something the judge can do and which the legislator would like to see them do.

Mr Justice Kearns said that in the meantime interim measures should be put in place as quickly as possible.

“Even a measure limited to the provision of guidelines for soft tissue injuries would represent real progress,” he said.

The Alliance for Insurance Reform said it echoed Mr Justice Kearne's frustration.

The spokesperson for the alliance, Peter Boland, said the Judicial Council Bill had been sitting in the Senate for 681 days.

The Personal Injuries Commission was established in 2017 and members included representatives from the Bar Council, the Law Society and Insurance Ireland.

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