Chief Justice Frank Clarke has rebuffed comments by Fine Gael minister Michael D’Arcy about the role of judges in high personal- injury payouts.
Justice Clarke has been forced to defend the independence of the new judicial council committee after Mr D’Arcy’s comments, as he named the seven members of the Judicial Council’s personal injuries committee.
The judge said he felt he had to make the independence of the new body absolutely clear. “I have felt it incumbent on me to make these additional comments so as to avoid any wrong impressions about the full independence of the Judicial Council and the committee itself,” he said.
Formally nominating the seven judges to the personal injuries guidelines committee of the Judicial Council, Justice Clarke took the rare step of indirectly addressing recent comments made by Mr D’Arcy, the junior finance minister, about the new committee’s work.
He did not refer to Mr D’Arcy by name in his statement but the unambiguous nature of the statement has been seen as a clear rebuttal of the minister’s views.
In a Business Post interview recently Mr D’Arcy called on judges to use their new powers to set personal injury guidelines by the end of the year. He said he hoped the new guidelines would bring court awards for personal injury cases more in line with England and Wales.
The comments were seen as unhelpful by members of the judiciary. In a statement issued yesterday, Justice Clarke said in the light of some recent publicity, and having consulted with the senior judiciary, it is incumbent on him to “emphasise the total independence” which the law gives to that committee.
“Given that independence, and given that the committee has not yet had its first meeting, there could be no basis in fact for suggestions that the committee will necessarily pick the five most common injuries for initial consideration, use any particular research in the course of its work, have results in respect of those five injuries by March of next year, and make an assessment of the compensation for such injuries which would reduce same by more than 15% to 20%,” he said. The chief justice nominated Justice Mary Irvine as chair of the committee designate. She has convened a first meeting for early next week.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the independence of the judiciary needed to be respected but that the cost of insurance must come down.
“The chief justice will remind everybody there is and needs to be a complete separation between the judiciary and the political system. But it’s also important to recognise that insurance costs are a huge issue.”