Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


6:45 pm

Photo of Cathal BerryCathal Berry (Kildare South, Independent) | Oireachtas source

At the outset, I also wish to acknowledge the work of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and former Deputy Billy Kelleher and thank them for their contributions in bringing forward legislation in this area in the past. It is good that the Regional Independent Group has picked up the baton, so to speak, and introduced the strengthened legislation that is before the House this evening.

I am heartened by the position the Government has adopted in that it will not oppose the Bill. I am also encouraged that others in opposition have expressed support for it. That is a very good thing. Why would there not be cross-party support for this important legislation? Everybody in the House appreciates and accepts that the insurance crisis in this country is a cross-cutting issue that affects every facet of society. It impacts on our schools, crèches, public amenities, small businesses and friends and families everywhere.

I also totally accept that a multitude of factors are at play and that one single measure will not address the entirety of the problem. There is an issue, however, where a small minority of claimants submit spurious, exaggerated and bogus claims. If that issue were tackled, it would have a disproportionately positive affect downstream. It is something we should certainly go after.

I am very much in favour of this Bill for four reasons. The first is that the emphasis here is on deterrent, not punishment or retribution. Everybody understands that insurance is there for a reason. It is there for genuine people who have been genuinely injured. They should not be out of pocket. They should have their medical bills paid for and receive adequate compensation for their injuries. I believe everybody accepts that. It is also important, however, that the threshold of penalties is raised slightly in order that we absolutely discourage and deter spurious and bogus claims.

What is suggested in the Bill makes much sense. If a claim is thrown out of court because it is deemed to be fraudulent, then it is reasonable to expect that the claimant pays the defendant's legal fees. While the implementation is a little more complex, at least the principle is sound. The Bill proposes that a defined pathway will exist and that judges, should they choose to exercise this right, could refer fraudulent claims to the Director of Public Prosecutions for further consideration, if, again, it is deemed appropriate.

This legislation is appropriate and justified. More important, while it is a little bit delayed, it is proportionate and needed in this day and age. Another reason I support it is that it will free up a lot of court time. Much court time is wasted with unnecessary cases and claims. If we can preserve the time of the courts and the caseload for worthy and deserving cases, it would make a lot of sense, particularly with the Covid-19 crisis and the backlog of cases in our courts.

This legislation will reinforce the importance of the PIAB, an agency for which I have much time. The emphasis is on seeking a non-adversarial solution to many of these claims and to prevent litigation in the first place. It is swifter, as well as being much more efficient and effective at solving these problems. I am heartened that the Government is reviewing the PIAB process with a public consultation under way. I encourage anybody who has an interest in this area to make a submission to the relevant Department in that regard.

There is a compensation culture among a small minority. This legislation will challenge that. It will stimulate conversation and probably lead in time to the creation of a specialised Garda unit. I take the Minister's point and that three new forensic accountants are shortly to be employed. We probably need a specialised insurance fraud Garda unit, however big or however small.

I support this legislation. I am grateful to those colleagues who are happy to allow it progress to Committee Stage. I look forward to further discussions on this and the legislation being enacted as soon as possible.


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