Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2019: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 and to provide for related matters.

I thank the Chair for allowing me to introduce the Bill which forms part of a series of constructive measures we, as a party, have brought forward to tackle the issue of high insurance costs for businesses and individuals throughout the country. Last week representatives of the Alliance for Insurance Reform appeared in front of the Oireachtas finance committee, with representatives of ISME. Ms Linda Murray who owns a child leisure centre in Navan, County Meath, with many others, has faced massive increases in insurance costs in recent years. This year she cannot even obtain a quote and, as a result, potentially faces closure in a short number of weeks. We hear that business after business throughout the country is going to the wall because of sky rocketing insurance costs. This is an issue for hotels, pubs, night clubs and other businesses in the leisure industry, marts, festivals, community groups and sports organisations.

Insurance fraud is one the principal reasons insurance costs are becoming unsustainable for so many businesses. It is certainly not the only reason, but it is a contributory factor. Last year Deputy Billy Kelleher introduced a Bill to enable a judge to inform the people involved in a case where a fraudulent claim or action was found to have been made.

This new Bill should be made in conjunction with last year's Bill. A minority of claimants bring fraudulent claims to court in the hope of receiving significant awards of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of euro. We see these cases in the media on a frequent basis. This can represent a very serious cost for both businesses and individuals and can lead to the loss of a livelihood. It is simply unjust.

Currently there seems to be no real downside or potential cost to bringing such bogus claims. Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 makes it an offence to give evidence intentionally that is false or misleading. Section 26 also states that when this has been established, the court must dismiss the claim. The purpose of this Bill is to provide for an increase in the penalties for those found guilty of an offence under section 26 of the 2004 Act. Those convicted of an offence under section 26 can currently receive a maximum fine of €100,000 or a sentence of ten years. Those summarily convicted can receive a maximum fine of €3,000, a sentence of 12 months or both. This Bill increases the maximum fine that can be imposed for a summary conviction to a class A fine, which currently stands at €5,000. That is as far as we are allowed to go in this legislation.

The Bill goes on to state that where a person's case has been dismissed pursuant to section 26 of the 2004 Act the plaintiff must pay the legal expenses of the defendant. This is in recognition of the fact that significant costs are incurred by the defendant in defending his or her case in the courts. We are cognisant of the use of the word "shall". The Oireachtas cannot instruct the courts on how they shall administer justice. It is for this reason that the language in the Bill replicates that of other parts of the 2004 Act. The court does not have to provide an order to pay legal costs where the court believes that such an order would result in an injustice being done. That terminology is already in the existing legislation. It has been replicated in this provision. In such cases the court shall outline the reasons.

This is not a revolutionary Bill. It is a simple Bill that increases the penalties for making a fraudulent claim, including the potential costs. However, this is only part of the problem. We need more focused attention on fraud on the part of An Garda Síochána. We need an anti-fraud unit to be established within An Garda Síochána. We need those who submit claims fraudulently to be prosecuted in our courts. No such cases are being taken at the present time. The Government has not brought forward sufficient reforms in this area. We need more cases to be brought before the courts in connection with exaggerated, bogus or fraudulent claims. We need to get the message that insurance fraud does not pay out there, because it comes at a cost to every honest policyholder in the country. This Bill is one step in that direction.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.