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Ireland: Supreme Court ruling on Personal Injuries Guidelines

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By Sarah McAuley


Published 10 April 2024


The Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the landmark case of Delaney v PIAB on 9th April 2024.  The Court heard the appeal taken by Ms. Delaney seeking to challenge the constitutionality of the Personal Injuries Guidelines (the "Guidelines"). This case had raised significant issues regarding the separation of powers between the judiciary and the Oireachtas.

The majority of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Guidelines.

Ms. Delaney had initiated her challenge following the PIAB assessment of her ankle injury under the new Guidelines. Her case was assessed at €3,000 however she contended that under the previous Book of Quantum, the case was worth up to €34,000.

The High Court initially rejected Ms. Delaney's case. The Supreme Court agreed to hear Ms. Delaney's appeal against the decision of the High Court due to the importance of the issued raised. The appeal was heard in March 2023.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court found that the Guidelines were legally binding.

Significantly, the majority held that s.7(2)(g) of the Judicial Council Act 2019, which provides the Council with the power to make and adopt personal injuries guidelines, was unconstitutional in its current form as they were contrary to the independence of the judiciary. It was held however that the Guidelines were subsequently ratified by the Oireachtas following the enactment of the Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2021(2021 Act) and as such, the majority of the Court held that the Guidelines are in force as a matter of law.

The Court rejected Ms. Delaney's claim that she had a vested property or personal right to have her application assessed by either PIAB or the courts under the earlier Book of Quantum.

The Court made an order that s.7(2)(g) of the Judicial Council Act 2019 was unconstitutional as well as a declaration that the Guidelines were given legal effect by virtue of the 2021 Act, and are in force.

It was also found that PIAB had acted properly in their assessment of Ms. Delaney's case. The appeal was dismissed save for the declaration of unconstitutionality and costs were awarded in favour of Ms. Delaney.

The implications of this judgment are as yet unknown. This decision may well impact the ways in which the guidelines are adopted in the future and.  As matters stand, the Guidelines are constitutional and remain in force as a matter of law.

An interesting aspect to the judgment is the view expressed by Charleton, Collins and Murray JJ which is that the guidelines "should only be departed from where there is no reasonable proportion between the guidelines and the award which should otherwise be made". This would appear to be a more onerous standard than the current position which is that a court must find reasons to depart from the Guidelines where the justice of the case warrants an award above the damages proposed in the Guidelines.

The current Guidelines are due to be reviewed in April 2024. Given the finding that s.7(2)(g) is unconstitutional, it remains to be seen whether future updates will come via the Oireachtas or perhaps another body with delegated power to review them.  It is already notable that the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, has commented on the deficiencies in the legislation underpinning the Guidelines.  In that respect she has indicated the government will "bring forward any necessary amendments to the legislation" in light of the Judgment.

In summary, while this decision of the Supreme Court is welcome in confirming the legal effect of the Guidelines, there remains some uncertainty as to the practical implications of this judgment in respect of future revisions to them. Future developments will hopefully provide more clarity.