A defining requirement in a mature, reliable, and honest society is a trustworthy courts system, one where the rule of law prevails with obvious and sometimes forceful, unsentimental decisions. Without courts willing to protect individuals’ or communities’ rights, mayhem prevails; anarchy, to one degree or another, beckons. Ironically, as we sink deeper and deeper into a post-truth world, the protection of a strong justice system seems ever-more important.
Why else would two of Europe’s nastier leaders — Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski — have tried to bring their courts systems to heel by ‘reforms’ rejected by the EU?
Our courts are vulnerable in their almost limitless capacity to absorb the most implausible evidence, some of which has more to do with fantasy than reality. This indulgence is seen in many courtroom settings, but in some cases, involving compensation claims, it reaches a crescendo.
It is not unknown for judges to express grave concerns about evidence, but to then, despite their doubts, make significant awards. This is simply incomprehensible. So, too, are the regular decisions to withdraw a claims action once individuals are presented with evidence that holes their case below the water line.
It is an indictment of the courts and society’s integrity that there are usually no consequences for these games of bluff (a very expensive bluff for businesses or individuals targeted by these dubious actions.)
Just yesterday, an insurance broker that works with small businesses called on Government to overhaul conventions around minor injuries awards. CFM Insurance Group proposed that claimants should no longer receive compensation for pain and suffering and only get awards for medical expenses and loss of wages.
The insurance industry has, naturally, skin in this game, but the situation has been exacerbated over decades by the sector’s willingness to settle claims before claimants’ evidence is tested, all too often without the knowledge of the person sued — who, when their policy is due for renewal, will be penalised, even if they have no case to answer.
This routine dishonesty — what else is it? — is encouraged by our blase attitude to perjury. Convictions for the common law crime of perjury are almost unheard of, as no piece of legislation offers a barrister-proof definition of the crime. That may be about to change — it certainly should.
A new statutory offence of perjury is expected to reach cabinet for approval shortly. Justice and Equality Minister, Charlie Flanagan, has said that the Perjury and Related Offences Bill should make it easier to confront insurance fraud and, presumably, other cases where dishonest evidence is offered under oath. Fines of up to €100,000, and up to 10 years in jail, are anticipated.
Hopefully, this legislation will be enacted before this Dáil ends. It is far too important an issue to be ignored. It will be interesting to see if this new legislation is applied in all cases and not just in well-defined strata as, sadly, often seems to be the case with the Criminal Assets Bureau.