A top judge dealing with a backlog of personal injury cases has called on people open to settling their cases to do so without having to come before court.
President of the High Court Ms Justice Mary Irvine said there were 320 personal injury cases due before her which had been postponed on 18 March last because of the impact of Covid-19 measures.
In a statement, Ms Justice Irvine said that what she was asking parties to do now was what they would be doing anyway if their cases were listed for hearing.
“When I applied for the position of President of the High Court, I promised that I would do everything in my power to minimise the effects of Covid 19 on those requiring access to justice,” she said.
She said that 97% of all personal injury claims were settled and that 89% of those that reach the door of the court settle.
“Regrettably, however, a substantial number of claims only settle on the day they are listed for hearing,” Ms Justice Irvine said.
“In practical terms this means that if cases cannot be listed for hearing (as is currently the case because of Covid-19), they will neither be fought nor settled but will remain in limbo.”
She said: “The claims causing me most concern are those amongst the 320 cases I have just mentioned which would have settled had it not been necessary to adjourn them.”
She said in those cases, the plaintiffs have been “held out of the money” they would have received as result of such settlements.
“And, as we all know, delay in litigation of this nature can cause great economic hardship or even unwarranted additional mental or physical suffering.
“Many plaintiffs who have sustained serious injuries are unable to work and need their compensation to replace their earnings and there are those who without their compensation who will not receive the medical treatment or care they need.”
The senior judge said that because of the impact of Covid-19 public health measures on the ability of court to hear personal injury proceedings she was requesting all of those involved in the 320 claims to negotiate with each other “in the immediate future”.
This would bring about the result that “would have been achieved” if those cases could have been listed for hearing.
But she stressed she wasn’t trying to influence people’s decisions: “Let me make it absolutely clear that I not asking any defendant to settle a claim in respect of which they consider they have no liability or where they consider the sum claimed to be excessive or even possibly fraudulent.
“Obviously, defendants must contest rather than settle such claims. Neither am I asking any defendant, who would in the normal course of events have settled a particular claim, to pay anything more than they would have paid to settle the claim on the date it was due to be heard.”
Ms Justice Irvine added: “All I am asking is that the parties do what they would have done over the past three months and over the next five weeks, had the court been able to list these claims for hearing in the normal way.
“And, if the parties embark upon such negotiations in the same way as they would have done had the cases been listed for hearing, justice will be the winner with hopefully 89% or thereabouts of those cases being settled.”