The long anticipated appeal by the Plaintiff to the Supreme Court against the Personal Injuries Guidelines was heard over the course of two days this week. The appeal was heard by a seven-Judge Court, comprising four Supreme Court judges – Mr Justice Maurice Collins, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, Mr Justice Peter Charleton and Mr Justice Brian Murray – and three Court of Appeal judges, Ms Justice Máire Whelan, Ms Justice Mary Faherty and Mr Justice Robert Haughton.
The action challenges guidelines drafted by the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee of the Judicial Council, as required by the 2019 Act. They came into force in April 2021, after they were approved by a majority of the 146 members of the Judicial Council.
The Plaintiff’s legal team submitted that the guidelines interfered with the independence of the Courts and her rights and the passing of the guidelines in March 2021 was a “legislative act cloaked in a veneer of judicial action” and amounted to an unconstitutional interference with judicial independence.
They argue that the Personal Injuries Assessment Board acted outside its powers in assessing her claim under the guidelines and subsequently breached her rights to natural and constitutional justice. It is alleged the Judicial Council acted outside of its powers in adopting the guidelines.
Lawyers on behalf of the State have indicated that Judges can depart from the guidelines if they feel the award does not do an injury justice. Eoin McCullough SC, on behalf of the State, stressed that the guidelines are not legislation due to the fact judges can depart from them.
Mr. McCullough SC responded to a number of hypothetical scenarios, raised by the seven panel Court, where judges might be entitled to make a higher award than is set out in the guidelines.
Mr. McCullough SC submitted that while judges were expected to follow the guidelines, if they believed these figures were “simply wrong”, the Judicial Council Act of 2019 provided for a departure.
When asked by Mr Justice Murray if “mere disagreement” with a value given in the guidelines allowed for departure, Mr McCullough submitted it did as long as other principles, such as proportionality, were observed and reasons set out.
Responding to the submissions put forward on behalf of the State, Feichín McDonagh SC, for Ms Delaney, said the guidelines arose out of a process “forced” on the judiciary by the Oireachtas. Mr. McDonagh SC said the fact no judge who was not a member of the Judicial Council could hear this appeal spoke to the fact the March 2021 decision “crosses and recrosses the boundaries” between the judiciary and the executive.
The Court has reserved its decision and a judgment is now awaited.