Perjury laws: Let’s tackle all forms of dishonesty

THE compo culture so alive in this country reflects poorly on us all. 

It adds to the cost of living and of doing business. It can curtail school activities, limit sports clubs’ range of possibilities, and, in the worst instances, discourages the kind of volunteerism that so many community projects rely on. It hits every one of us in the pocket when we go to pay for car insurance or any other kind of cover so important in today’s world. It has a negative impact on every budget, private, business, or public, in the country.

It also undermines the credibility of our courts system which far too often seems to be a willing actor in the most spurious adventures. That culture sometimes highlights the streak of opportunism so apparent among some in the legal professions. That awards offered in this country are often multiples of those offered to our European peers, especially for whiplash injuries, suggests that something other than restorative justice is in play.

Though the majority of claims brought before a court are legitimate it would be dishonest to pretend that a good proportion of those cases, many encouraged by no-foal-no-fee ambulance chasers, would be taken by scrupulously honest, live-and-let-live people. That a good number of these cases collapse once defendants produce evidence showing that the claimants are fit and well rather than buckled accident vitims adds to that impression. That some litigants seem to be serial claimants may suggest that some people are particularly unlucky but it is difficult not to come to other conclusions as well.

One of the reasons that this culture is not challenged as it should be is that it is so very difficult to even discuss. A suggestion that Mr A or Ms X misled a court over some minor incident, real, imagined, contrived, or exaggerated, opens the door to another round of compensation claims in the defamation courts. A win-win for the ambulance chasers. The fact that our judges do not have to justify their decisions, no matter how indulgent, adds to that difficulty. The great power of the legal lobby means they will do all they can to prevent reform or, to put it in a different way, protect the goose that lays the golden egg.

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association has, however, entered the fray. It wants perjury laws to try to cut the number of false claims made against small businesses. It seems to have a strong case as the number of compensation claims rejected or withdrawn seem to far outnumber the number of perjury cases initiated on these matters. It is the responsibility of the DPP or the gardaí to initiate perjury actions.

The ISME suggestion is valid but, like Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s reference to “early risers”, it would be strengthened if it was balanced and included those in professions who facilitate everything from inaccurate audits, tax evasion, and any possible white-collar crimes . It is appropriate to confront these toxic issues but we need more honesty in all areas of society, not just in the compensation courts.

And maybe it’s time justice stopped being so very blind.


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