Amendment No. 2 is related to amendment No. I and both may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill, 1996 [ Seanad ]: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 33, to delete "£20,000" and substitute "£30,000".
When speaking on this Bill previously, I mentioned the importance of civil liability and compensation for the dependants of a deceased person. I am particularly concerned about cases where a wife is left to look after a number of children. As the Minister said, compensation or a solatium will help but in many cases it is all the wife will get. The Minister went further than he originally intended and increased the figure from £7,500, the amount payable at present, to £15,000 and then to £20,000 on Committee Stage. I compliment him on that increase and on going beyond the strict consumer price index figures. We are happy he has increased the amount to £20,000.
We have not resolved the problem in relation to the size of families. That is why I said this measure was discriminatory, that it is anti-family. If the father, who in many cases is the breadwinner, meets an accidental death, the mother must look after the family which may comprise one child or six children. If the family comprises one child and the widow, the family will get £20,000. However, the situation is different if there is a widow and six children. We did not resolve this problem on Committee Stage; we did not find a way to compensate each child so that all family members are treated equally. That is a matter which I regret and which must be considered since there will be a difference in the amount received in terms of the size of a family.
The Minister rightly argued that this is only to compensate for the sense of loss suffered by family members. However, if six people experience loss, the compensation provided should be greater than that for one person. We increased the amount provided from £15,000 to £20,000. We proposed that the figure be increased to £30,000 and even then I was not happy that the provision of a bigger figure would resolve the situation. I would be happier if the figure was £20,000 and if there was also a means of compensating the children in such circumstances. We have been unable to find a solution so I can only look to the future for a means of removing the anti-family element and providing for more equal treatment.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 propose that the maximum amount of compensation payable for mental distress in fatal injuries cases be increased to £30,000. These amendments are of similar effect to amendments which Deputy Woods proposed on Committee Stage. The figure of £20,000 in the Bill was accepted on Committee Stage and Deputy Woods indicated he was happy to accept my amendment containing that figure. I do not propose to increase that figure and I regret I am unable to accept the amendments.
Deputy Woods said the size of the family is not taken into account. However, his proposed amendment does not address this point. He cited as an example the person who died being the father and the breadwinner. That comes under a different heading of compensation. The law already provides for full and complete recompense to the family for all financial losses as a result of the negligent act which caused the death of the person in respect of whom the proceedings are brought. It takes into account what their loss of earnings would be and their potential loss vis-á-vis what their likely working life would be. Other losses, apart from the loss of expectation of income and earnings, are already provided for independently of this solatium figure. This figure is only for solatium and encompasses no other heading of compensation.
My proposal represents a major increase on what is available at present. As I said on Committee Stage, if the figure was brought up to date on an index-linked basis it would be under £15,000. I am proposing a figure of £20,000, which Deputy Woods agrees is reasonable. On Second Stage, Deputy Lenihan suggested, from his point of view as an experienced barrister, that the range under this heading should be £20,000 to £25,000. I decided on £20,000 as the appropriate figure but I am making provision in the Bill to have that figure varied by ministerial order from time to time. This is a reasonable compromise and Deputy Woods accepts that.
We had considerable discussion about the amount on Committee Stage. I told the Minister I accepted his compromise figure, although the amendment proposed by Deputy Woods and me was for £30,000. I wish the Minister could have provided for a greater amount but he went some way in acknowledging the arguments we made. It is also valuable that there is provision for a ministerial order to vary the figure in the future. I am glad there was a compromise on this matter and I accepted the Minister's amendment on Committee Stage. However, it is important to emphasise this issue, as Deputy Woods has on this Stage.
Does Deputy Woods propose to take two minutes or his right of reply?
My reply will not take two minutes. The House has become bureaucratic in recent times; virtually everthing is done by the clock.
I accept that the Minister has made a step forward by providing for £20,000. I did not say the amendment resolved the position of the children in the family. On Committee Stage we failed to find a solution to that problem and I would have been happier if we could have found a solution. The Minister explained the complexity of the situation. It must be addressed, although it will have to be done in future legislation. We have progressed from £7,500 to £20,000 and it is a reasonable compromise, although I would have preferred if the Minister had moved further.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
"5.—Section 7 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the insertion of the following subsection:
'(2A) (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 7(2) of this Act, exemplary damages may be awarded where—
(i) the death was procured by a deliberate act of the wrongdoer or other parties acting on his behalf or in consort with him, or
(ii) the death is as a result of actions of the wrongdoer or other parties acting on his behalf or in consort with him which were reckless as to whether death could result therefrom.
(b) Subsection (1) shall not have effect in relation to a cause of action that commenced by the issue of proceedings before that subsection comes into operation.'.".
We discussed this amendment at length on Committee Stage. Although the Minister pointed out that exemplary penalties mainly relate to the criminal law area, there are practical situations in civil law where there is a need for exemplary damages. A recent relevant case, the number of Veronica Guerin, demonstrates the truth of that contention. That murder was planned and ordered by people who have substantial resources. We recently introduced legislation to hit these people where it hurts, in their pockets, and that is the intention of including a provision for exemplary damages in this Bill.
The Minister said he will examine this matter in the future and that he might ask the Law Reform Commission to examine it. I urge him to do so urgently. This amendment is important and I would have been happier if it could have been included in the Bill. I accept that complex issues are involved and that the issue will have to be examined. However, there is a necessity to provide for exemplary damages in cases such as the one I mentioned.
There was a long debate on this matter on Committee Stage. I asked the Minister to ask the Law Reform Commission to examine this complex issue. Has he had time to consider that request and can he say if it will be considered by the Law Reform Commission?
On Committee Stage I undertook to consider having the matter of exemplary damages examined by the Law Reform Commission. Referring the matter for consideration by the commission is a matter for the Attorney General under section 4(1) (c) of the Law Reform Commission Act, 1975. I am in consultation with the Attorney General with a view to having the matter referred to the commission. Under the circumstances, I cannot support the amendment.
I put down the amendment to emphasise the issue and I accept the Minister's assurance that he is taking action in this regard.
The passing of this Bill adds to the reform of our laws on civil liability. I initiated reforms some time ago with the Occupiers Liability Bill and earlier this year I gave a commitment to the House that I would look at amending that part of the Civil Liability Act, 1961, which deals with compensation in fatal injury cases. This Bill increases the compensation from £7,500 to a maximum of £20,000. It also extends the definition of dependants, who may claim damages as compensation for loss of benefits, funeral expenses and mental distress under the Act, to include cohabitants, persons divorced in the State and persons whose foreign divorces are entitled to recognition in the State.
I thank all Members who contributed to the debate on the Bill and express my appreciation for their constructive approach. I thank the staff of my Department for their work on the preparation of the Bill.
I welcome the passing of this Bill and I thank the Minister for increasing the compensation to £20,000, which is important for those with no jobs or income. Perhaps the Minister will consider the points I made about exemplary damages and the family.
I thank the Minister and his officials for the speedy passage of this Bill through the House. I welcome the reference to the Law Reform Commission in relation to exemplary damages and I thank the Minister for his openness in that regard.