Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 July 2019

CervicalCheck Tribunal Bill 2019: Second Stage


10:30 am

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senators for their contributions and overall support for the CervicalCheck Tribunal Bill 2019. The Minister of Health, Deputy Harris, and I have listened carefully to the Senators. We will consider with our officials the points raised in the House this afternoon.

The central purpose of the Bill is to implement the recommendation of Mr. Justice Meenan on an alternative scheme for dealing with claims arising from CervicalCheck. The tribunal is fundamentally different in character to tribunals of inquiry, with which we have become familiar. It will determine liability in respect of claims subject to the consent of all parties. It will make awards in line with the principles governing awards in the High Court. The new process will have significant benefits for those wishing to claim by adopting a pre-claim protocol and practice direction that will make hearings move more quickly. The tribunal will of course uphold the principle of justice and will only make findings of negligence when the evidence considered to the High Court standard warrants such findings. These findings will be subject to High Court confirmation and can be appealed to the High Court and, thereafter, to the Court of Appeal on a point of law. The tribunal hearings will be held in private except when the claimants request otherwise and the tribunal agrees. This respects the privacy of the women concerned while ensuring they are empowered to go public if they so wish.

The tribunal is a key part of our collective response to the CervicalCheck cases. Enacting the Bill sends the message that we are listening to the concerns expressed by women who have taken cases to the court. We have acted to provide an alternative solution.

As the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has said, an important feature of the tribunal that distinguishes it from court practice and procedure is that the tribunal Bill provides for an independent facilitator who will convene restoration of trust meetings between women and their clinicians. This facilitator will operate independent of the tribunal, the Government and the HSE. The facilitator will provide for the experiences of women to be heard and they will be able to engage meaningfully with clinicians in a safe environment. This function will be available regardless of whether the woman chooses to take a case to the tribunal or the courts. It will also be available to women whose cases have already concluded where trust in medicine, the screening programme or the State has been damaged. It is vital that we take steps to rebuild this trust.

As the Minister, Deputy Harris, mentioned, we will return in the autumn to expand the scope of the tribunal to a particular additional cohort of women. The Minister will also consider the points made today over the summer. The Minister looks forward to working more with the House and Departments in moving forward on implementation and the recommendations of Dr. Scally, including the move to primary human papilloma virus, HPV, screening and the enactment of a patient safety Bill, which will provide in law for mandatory open disclosure in respect of serious patient safety instances. The Minister is open to working with Members on ways we can protect the well-being of vulnerable service users and their families. We believe that the tribunal will make the difficult process somewhat easier.

I thank Members, the Ceann Comhairle and officials of the Bills Office, whom I know worked late into the night to have the Bill published. The hard work that has been put into developing this legislation is only beginning. After the Houses have finished their work for the time being, the Minister has tasked officials with beginning work on the implementation of the tribunal as an absolute priority. I wish to assure Members and women who may be listening that the work will not stop or slow down after this afternoon but will continue. I thank the House once again for its consideration and input.

I wish to refer to one or two things. I was thrown in here and did not realise that I would be here.


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