This is a short Bill, but at the same time a very important Bill. It proposes the total repeal of the Public Authorities Protection Act, 1893, and of the enactments applying that Act in a full or modified form.
The 1893 Act has over the years been severely criticised and I doubt if very much need be said to justify its repeal. Under its provisions, a person suing the State or a local authority has to bring proceedings within six months of the act, neglect or default complained of, and not within six months of the date the cause of action arose. The period of six months is, of course, far too short and cases have arisen where a person could not bring his action because the damage caused to him did not manifest itself in time.
A second objectionable feature of the 1893 Act is that a public authority gets specially favourable treatment as to the costs. An unsuccessful plaintiff is liable to pay solicitor and client costs instead of party and party costs. Even a successful plaintiff is liable for solicitor and client costs in some instances as, for example, where the court is of opinion that he did not give the public authority sufficient opportunity to make an offer for settlement.
The new Act is expressed to come into operation on the 1st January next. Under sub-section (4) of Section 2, the repeal of the 1893 Act and the repeals of the other enactments will not apply to any proceeding if the cause of action arose before the 1st of July of this year. This provision is designed to prevent stale claims being brought against public authorities and is a reasonable provision.
I recommend the Bill to the House. It provides a highly desirable and long-needed piece of law reform. There is really no valid reason why public authorities should be placed on any different footing from private persons or from public companies like C.I.E. to which the Act does not apply. Senators may consider that extending the period of limitation to six years, as the Bill will in effect do in most cases, is going too far. The point is, of course, that six years is probably too long a period for anybody, whether public authority or ordinary citizen. We hope, however, at no far distant date to have ready for discussion a Statute of Limitations Bill which will deal with the periods of limitation for all legal actions.