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Statement of President of the High Court regarding the Personal Injuries Claims listed in the Legal Diary for the 23, 24 and 25 June

10th July 2020

June 26th 2020. When I applied for the position of President of the High Court I promised that I would do everything in my power to minimise the effects of Covid 19 on those requiring access to justice. And, in making this statement today I am taking my first step towards meeting that promise.

Because of the notice which has appeared in the legal diary in recent days, I am proceeding on the basis that it is principally members of the legal profession who practice in the area of personal injuries litigation that will note the content of this short statement. However, the statement is also relevant to those whose business it is to indemnify individuals or entities against claims for negligence, because it is they who, in most cases, decide which cases are fought and which are settled and, if settled, for how much. And, all who I have mentioned have an important role to play in the administration of justice.  

Because of social distancing and other safety issues, finding a way to safely and justly hear cases involving numbers of witnesses presents a challenge that is unlikely to be entirely overcome in the short term.  Regrettably, because personal injury claims fall into this category, 320 claims have been postponed since 18th March 2020.   And, whilst it is hoped to restart some level of personal injuries litigation in the coming weeks, I am absolutely confident that with your help the hardship that will otherwise be visited on the many litigants whose claims have been adjourned or will in the immediate future be adjourned through no fault of their own, can be greatly reduced. As major stakeholders in personal injuries litigation you, the people I have just mentioned, have that power, as I will now explain.

What we know from the statistics concerning personal injuries litigation in the High Court is that approximately 97% of all claims are settled. Of those that reach the door of the court, 89% settle with only 11% proceeding to a contested hearing. Regrettably, however, a substantial number of claims only settle on the day they are listed for hearing. In practical terms this means that if cases cannot be listed for hearing (as is currently the case because of Covid-19), they will neither be fought nor settled but will remain in limbo.  

The claims causing me most concern are those amongst the 320 cases I have just mentioned which would have settled had it not been necessary to adjourn them. In those cases, the plaintiffs have been held out of the money they would have received as result of such settlements. And, as we all know, delay in litigation of this nature can cause great economic hardship or even unwarranted additional mental or physical suffering.  Many plaintiffs who have sustained serious injuries are unable to work and need their compensation to replace their earnings and there are those who without their compensation who will not receive the medical treatment or care they need.

Because of the prejudicial effect which Covid 19 has had on the ability of the courts to hear personal injury proceedings, I am requesting all of those involved in the 320 claims which have been postponed to date due to Covid 19 and also those concerned with the claims which in normal circumstances would have been listed for hearing before the end of July, to negotiate with each other in the immediate future with a view to bringing about the result that would have been achieved if those cases could have been listed for hearing. For reasons of health and safety, those negotiations should take place otherwise than at the Four Courts.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I not asking any defendant to settle a claim in respect of which they consider they have no liability or where they consider the sum claimed to be excessive or even possibly fraudulent. Obviously, defendants must contest rather than settle such claims. Neither am I asking any defendant, who would in the normal course of events have settled a particular claim, to pay anything more than they would have paid to settle the claim on the date it was due to be heard.

All I am asking is that the parties do what they would have done over the past three months and over the next five weeks, had the court been able to list these claims for hearing in the normal way.  And, if the parties embark upon such negotiations in the same way as they would have done had the cases been listed for hearing, justice will be the winner with hopefully 89% or thereabouts of those cases being settled.  And, if that percentage of claims, or something close to it is achieved, it will speak volumes to the sense of justice of those stakeholders who might possibly stand to benefit from a prolonged adjournment of such claims

The list of cases adjourned since 18th March has been in the diary in recent days. I intend to list these cases in a series of remote call overs in the last week of July to see what progress has been made and to give directions as to the hearing of such claims as have not settled. All such claims will of course remain under the control of Mr Justice  Kevin Cross who will continue to oversee the Personal Injuries Division of the High Court for the foreseeable future.

Thank you in anticipation for agreeing to play your part to lessen the hardship that would otherwise arise for this class of litigant due to the effect of Covid 19 on the Court’s ability to administer justice.

Finally, I hope that within the next week I will be in a position to announce when, where and subject to what health and safety considerations, there will be some resumption of hearings of personal injury claims.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine

President of the High Court