Like other speakers, I welcome the introduction of this Bill. I feel that there may still be some misconceptions in the minds of some people in view of one remark by Deputy Costello who pointed out that, in his view, this Bill would be of benefit not only to members of the lay public but also to the legal profession. Possibly he did not quite adequately stress the fact that benefit to the legal profession would come much more from clarification of the law rather than any financial advantage which may result to them. In actual fact, the legal profession would make much more money, if the law remained in its present uncertain condition, so that in no circumstances should the Bill be regarded as a lawyer's Bill which will benefit them financially in any way.
I think, too, that this is not a Bill on which either side should reprimand the other on the question of delay. Certainly Governments from different Parties had up to now failed to produce this Bill. The Bill is really in the hands of experts. I could well understand that as the experts proceeded through this very difficult sphere of an analysis of the whole question of civil liability, they must constantly have been finding one other point, and two other points, which needed further elucidation.
I can well imagine that those who drafted this Bill must themselves be far from satisfied with its scope as it now stands. It is a difficult matter to discipline oneself and say: "I have gone as far as I propose to go at the moment. We will let it stand and let further amendments be taken under another Bill at a later stage." That has had to be done. In general, the amount of amendment and clarification is very considerable. In particular, the whole question of the survival of causes of action after death is one which certainly was crying out for attention. I welcome this because great injustice has been caused through causes of action ceasing on the death of one or other of the parties.
I was very glad that Deputy Costello dealt very fully with the question of the basis for assessing damages especially in cases of dependency. I have long felt that this question of damages is one which calls for substantial clarification because, as long as the amount of damage is a matter purely in the hands of a jury, the danger of an injustice is very great indeed. Anyone who has sat on a jury in a running-down action where damages are claimed will know that the final decision as to the amount of damages which will be awarded when liability has been established is purely a matter of averaging out between the various members of the jury. To allow the assessment of damages to rest with the jury is basically unsound. The only justification for the jury is to get a layman's opinion as to where the liability should properly rest, but the calculation of damages is not a matter for 12 ordinary men.
There is too much danger of prejudice, of gross irresponsibility, and cases have arisen, and are arising almost every day, where one member of a jury will say that in his opinion £10,000 would be adequate whereas another will put the damages at 5/-. With such excesses on one side or the other, it is almost impossible to reach a just solution. I would hope, therefore, that at some stage we might consider some better basis for the calculation of damages altogether. I agree with Deputy Costello that a purely actuarial calculation is very often unsound, but, at the same time, if we could get some standardisation we would be doing a very good day's work and, apart from anything else, we might be able to avoid the awarding of excessive damages which inevitably results in increases in premiums on insurance policies.
Mention has been made of the possibility of adopting the British procedure of the formation of a law reform committee. That also is something which is very close to my heart, but, unfortunately, with our comparatively small numbers it is very difficult to form the number of committees which this House should have, and it is regrettable that even with the small number of committees at present in existence there is a high proportion of members on each committee who are on the others as well. We find it difficult enough to form committees of this House. Despite these difficulties there is very much to be said for having some standing committee of the House keeping a watchful eye on the whole question of law reform and being prepared to receive representations and make recommendations on the whole question.
The main difficulty about the law is its uncertainty, and, as Deputy McGilligan pointed out, lawyers are always being blamed for the tortuous procedure of the law. It is up to us in this House to make the law more easy, more understandable and more reasonable, and to take the responsibility off the lawyers, because they should not have it. I am not fully persuaded that on this Bill at this stage we should refer the matter to a committee. It has already gone too far. It is generally agreed that the Bill as it stands is basically sound and that the sooner we get it passed the better, but the matter of forming a committee to deal generally with the question of law reform is one which certainly would have my full support.
Mention has been made, too, of the fact that the tortious act of the State does not lead to any liability on the State against a third party. I would agree very much with Deputy O'Higgins on that point that the time has come when the State should no longer be able to avoid its responsibility for any negligence on the part of its servants. I know that at times ex-gratia payments are made in such cases, but I agree with Deputy O'Higgins that the rights of the individual should be preserved against the State just as they are against another individual.
I am glad that this Bill should have been met in this way because I feel that the more we can deal with law reform as a matter of general agreement the better, and it is a pleasure to take part in a debate where we find ourselves so much in agreement. At the same time, I would hope that the fact that we seem to be in general agreement on this measure should not prevent us on the Committee Stage from going into it in great detail, because sometimes a Bill, even when it is agreed, may require amendment either by deletions or by additions, and I hope that in the general spirit of goodwill which is prevailing we may not find ourselves failing to be critical of the whole provision.
Possibly, the most welcome feature of this to me is the fact that this, a very technical Bill, is being dealt with by experts—not only those who are practising the law but also the Parliamentary Secretary, who has dealt with this matter in his introduction of the Second Reading in a most competent way. I know from my own personal experience that his work so far is greatly appreciated by the legal profession, and I feel that the way in which this Bill has been introduced to us has shown us that the Parliamentary Secretary is making a very real contribution to the whole question of law reform. In that I would like to wish him success, not only in this but in any subsequent law reform which he may be able to introduce.