A recent decision of Mr Justice Twomey demonstrated the judicial dissatisfaction with the requirement under the Garda Compensation scheme to issue proceedings in the High Court as opposed to the Court that is most applicable to the injuries sustained.
The Garda Compensation Acts requires members of An Garda Síochána to seek compensation for injuries suffered during the course of their duties in the High Court. The High Court is the only Court with jurisdiction to deal with such claims.
In this case, the Plaintiff Garda injured his hand during the course of an arrest, requiring some physio and painkillers. He made a full recovery a short time later and there was no ongoing issues. Counsel for the Garda urged the Court to award damages in the amount of €21,700, being the category of “minor” in the Book of Quantum.
In deciding how to assess the level damages, Twomey J drew a distinction between civilian personal injury cases and Garda compensation cases. He was of the view that Judges were only obliged to have regard to the Book of Quantum in civilian cases and not Garda compensation cases. He continued that the Book of Quantum is a guide, is not binding on the Court and that a degree of scepticism and common sense needs to be applied to personal injuries claims in assessing damages.
While the figure of €21,500 was suggested by Counsel for the Garda, Twomey J awarded €5,000 for pain and suffering.
Twomey J also took the opportunity in this Judgment to criticise the peculiarity of the statutory compensation scheme in relation to Gardaí. The requirement to issue proceedings in the High Court leads to a situation where the Costs incurred in the proceedings regularly exceed the amount of damages actually awarded. As most Garda compensation cases are assessment only, the net result is that two sets of High Court costs are being discharged from the public purse.
The Court suggested that the same rules that apply in civilian personal injuries cases apply to Garda compensation cases so that minor cases can be dealt with in the District and Circuit Courts. Alternatively the Court suggested that if the status quo is maintained that legal costs be commensurate with the level of the award i.e. District/Circuit Court costs.
Twomey J also suggested that Garda compensation claims be dealt with by the Personal Injuries Board (“PIAB”) which could lead to a saving to the taxpayer.
The Department of Justice and Equality has published a draft Bill named the General Scheme for a Garda Siochana (Compensation) Bill 2017. This Bill proposes a wide range of reforms in the area of Garda compensation which includes allowing claims to be brought before PIAB in a move designed to reduce legal costs to the State.
A copy of the judgement can be found here