The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal against the High Court's dismissal of an important test challenge aimed at setting aside guidelines regarding personal injuries awards.
The court agreed to hear a "leapfrog" appeal direct from the High Court, in an action brought by Bridget Delaney from Dungarvan in Co Waterford.
In a determination a panel comprised of Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan and Mr Justice Brian Murray agreed that important issues of general importance have been raised that necessitate the Supreme Court hearing the appeal.
The Supreme Court panel was further satisfied that the exceptional circumstances exist that warranted it, rather than the Court of Appeal, hearing the appeal direct from the High Court.
Separation of powers
The appeal, the panel found, raises questions of significant relevant to the intrepretation and construction of delegated legislation regarding the implications of the constitutional mandate of judicial independence and the separation of powers between judges and the Oireachtas.
The panel added that because the issues raised are of importance to the constitutional structure of the State, it was appropriate that the appeal be sufficiently broad to ensure that a comprehensive analysis is possible.
The appeal is against a judgment delivered last June Mr Justice Charles Meenan rejected all grounds of the challenge including claims that the 2021 guidelines, which have seen awarded reduced by up to 40 per cent, were unconstitutional and amounted to an encroachment on judicial independence.
The action, which was one of many similar actions, has major implications for the assessment of personal injuries claims.
The test action, taken against the State, and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB), is aimed at setting aside guidelines regarding awards for personal injuries claims introduced.
Ms Delaney's case focuses on a vote taken in March 2021 by the Judicial Council, the body made up of all the state's judges, to adopt the new guidelines.
PIAB, which is the government body that makes personal injury awards, and the State had opposed the action.
They reject her claims that the guidelines, and their adoption by the council were unconstitutional, or that the assessment of Mrs Delaney's injuries by PIAB breached her rights.
The guidelines were drawn up by a committee of the Judicial Council, before being approved following a ballot of all the State's judges.
In her action Ms Delaney seeks orders quashing the assessment PIAB made in respect of her claim, and the Judicial Council's decision to adopt the new personal injuries guidelines.
She also sought various declarations including that PIAB acted outside its powers, breached her rights to natural and constitutional justice, and that the Judicial Council acted outside of its powers in adopting the guidelines.
In his judgement Mr Justice Meenan rejected all of Ms Delaney's claims, including that her rights had been breached, and he also found that PIAB had acted in accordance with the relevant provisions of the 2003 PIAB Act when it assessed her personal injuries claim.
He said that Ms Delaney's constitutional rights of property and bodily integrity and equality "did not encompass a right to a particular sum of damages, but rather a right to have her damages assessed in accordance with well-established legal principals."
The judge added that there are clear and well-established principles for the awarding of general damages.
These principles provided that the level of damages is not only a matter between a plaintiff and a defendant, but also for society in general.
He said that the independence of the judiciary, along with the expertise and experience in the awarding of damages meant the county's judges was an appropriate body to draft and adopt the guidelines.
The 2019 Act he said made specific provision to preserve judicial independence.
Arising out of Mr Justice Meenan's decision lawyers for Ms Delaney sought to have their appeal go directly before the Supreme Court.
Mrs Delaney claims that the guidelines are unfair to persons who have suffered personal injuries.
She claims PIAB delayed in assessing her injuries until the new guidelines were introduced, acted in breach of fair procedures, that her assessment should not have been conducted under the new guidelines .
She claims the guidelines and their adoption by the judicial council also failed to have adequate regard to awards made by the Irish Courts in personal injuries actions.
She claimed she fractured a bone in her right ankle, after she tripped and fell at a public footpath in Dungarvan on April 12, 2019.
She required medical treatment, physiotherapy and was given a walker boot several weeks and has alleges she sustained her injuries due to the negligence of Waterford City and Council.
In June 2019 she submitted a claim to PIAB, seeking damages.
The Supreme Court will now case manage the appeal before it fixes a date to hear the matter.