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.
Insurance fraud should never pay. It has a cost for each and every one of us. The difficulty is that there are no consequences if someone is found out to be making a fraudulent claim. There is no downside to bringing a fraudulent claim. While there have been cases of claims being thrown out of court, there has been no follow-up or penalties as a result. If there is no cost to or consequence of engaging in this practice, it will go on. While the majority of claimants act in good faith, a small minority bring fraudulent claims to court in the hope of receiving a large award of tens or hundreds of thousands of euro. There have been instances where, after a court has dismissed a case that has no basis or foundation, the plaintiff has threatened to appeal unless he or she gets an out-of-court settlement. This practice has to stop immediately.
The Regional Group of Deputies has drafted the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2021. Its aim is to act as a genuine deterrent to those making false claims by increasing penalties for such offences, imposing legal costs on the plaintiff and having such matters referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for investigation at the court's discretion. There is no single measure that can tackle insurance costs but fraudulent and exaggerated claims have increased the cost of insurance premiums and have an impact right across this country. It is a minority of claimants who make fraudulent insurance claims but every single week An Garda Síochána receives reports of such claims. There is a perception that the number of fraudulent and exaggerated claims has been increasing in recent years. Where there are no consequences, significant costs are incurred by individuals and business owners defending such cases in court. Businesses have faced soaring insurance premiums as a result of the actions of fraudsters. Many businesses claim it is not uncommon for insurers to settle dubious claims too easily.
This Bill is based on a Bill published by the now Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, when he was in opposition. The purpose is to increase the penalties for those found guilty of an offence under section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. It deals with fraudulent actions. It differs from the Minister's Bill in that it intends to amend section 26 to ensure that, in the event of a case being struck out because of fraudulent evidence, the court may direct that the matter be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for investigation, but it leaves that discretion with the judge.
This is an innovative provision in Irish law.
The Bill is not just about insurance claims but about a core principle of the administration of justice in our society. Insurance fraud should not pay and this message needs to be reflected in our legislation. The Regional Group of Deputies will continue to work with Government and Opposition colleagues to tackle fraudulent claims and to progress another piece of legislation we support, the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 so we can have a balanced approach to addressing fraud in this country.