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Supreme Court Rules Judicial Personal Injury Guidelines as Lawful

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In a landmark recent ruling, the Supreme Court ruled, by a majority of five to two, that judicial guidelines which slashed awards for personal injuries do indeed have legal effect and are binding.

Judicial Council Personal Injuries Guidelines

The judgment stemmed from proceedings issued by Bridget Delaney, a woman who injured her ankle after tripping and falling on a public footpath road in Dungarvan in April 2019. Under the Judicial Council Personal Injuries Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) introduced in April 2021, her injury was assessed at €3,000.

Book of Quantum

Ms. Delaney claimed that the same injury would have received compensation between €18,000 to €34,000 if it was assessed under the book of quantum. Her reason for employing this argument was due to the fact that she had submitted her application to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (“PIAB”) in June 2019 but had her claim assessed in May 2021 using the new Guidelines.

She claimed that the PIAB had acted outside of their powers and had breached her rights in assessing her claim. This claim was grounded in the legal position that Section 22 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 stated that the courts and the PIAB must have regard to the book of quantum when assessing a claim.

Judicial Council Act 2019 

However, the enactment of the Judicial Council Act 2019 allowed the Council to adopt the guidelines in respect of personal injury awards – which they did in April 2021. The result of this was that the law was amended to provide that both PIAB assessors and the courts dealing with personal injuries claims must “have regard to the personal injury guidelines in force”.

Judicial Council Guidelines Held as Legally Binding

The Supreme Court judges held that Section 7(2)(g) of the Judicial Council Act 2019 was unconstitutional as it fundamentally undermined judicial independence. However, having found that the Guidelines were not adopted lawfully, the Court held that the subsequent parliamentary confirmation of the Guidelines pursuant to the Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2021 meant that they did indeed have statutory effect. The Court held by a split of 6-1 that the Guidelines were binding on that basis.

Implications for Personal Injuries Awards

The decision now means that any changes to the guidelines will require legislation, and should only be departed from where there is no reasonable proportion between them and the award that a judge independently believes they should issue.

Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan stated that he “completely” supported the guidelines as they create predictability in personal injuries awards while also lowering costs and making the process more efficient.

The court has indicated that they are prepared to grant Ms. Delaney her legal costs given the importance of the findings.

Further Information

For further advice on the implications of this ruling for personal injury matters, please contact Partner Avril Scally or Solicitor Nicholas Moore in our award-winning Medical Negligence & Personal Injury Team.