Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Questions (320)

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

449 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason there is such delay in pursuing Garda claims for compensation when injured in the course of duty; the further reason for the delay in his not signing the necessary certification to allow cases to go to the High Court under the Garda Síochána (Compensation) (Amendment) Act 1945; the longest time that some cases have been pending without having gone to the High Court; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2941/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Garda Síochána (Compensation) Acts 1941 and 1945 provide for a scheme of compensation for members of the Garda Síochána who are maliciously injured in the course of their duty or in relation to the performance of their duties as members of the Garda Síochána and for the dependants of members who have died from injuries maliciously inflicted on them. Under Section 6 of the 1941 Act, a member of the Garda Síochána who has been maliciously injured may sue the State only by an authorisation issued by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Before deciding if an applicant should be authorised to apply to the High Court for compensation in respect of the injury, the practice has been for the Minister to consider all medical reports submitted by the applicant together with a report on the incident by the Garda Commissioner and a report on the injury by the chief medical officer of the Garda Síochána. Members are referred to the Garda chief medical officer as soon as a final medical report has been submitted by their solicitors. The position is that at any one time there would be some 1,100 applications for compensation at various stages of processing.

There is no one reason delays may occur in the progressing of an application for compensation under the Acts. A backlog of applications occurred a number of years ago due initially to two judicial review cases which changed the manner in which claims are processed and then because of the death of the Garda surgeon and the delay in replacing him with the Garda chief medical officer. Delays may also occur from the late submission by a member of his or her application to my Department. The initial delay in making the application by a member may range from more than three months to several years following the date of the incident. The longest recorded delay in making an application by a member is 27 years. However, the majority of late applications are from one to three years, approximately.

There are also delays in receiving all medical reports, particularly final medical reports from the applicants or their legal advisers. In one instance the delay was 12 years. It is the practice of the Garda chief medical officer not to give an appointment to see the applicant until all relevant medical reports, including final medical reports, have been received in order that a comprehensive report can be formulated.

Within my Department, it can take time to make necessary additional inquiries because of the seriousness of the injuries received and the circumstances of the incident. However, every effort is made to keep administrative delays to a minimum. The information sought as regards the longest time that some cases have been pending without having gone to the High Court is not readily available and cannot be ascertained within the timeframe for answering this question. I agree that applications for compensation under the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Acts should be dealt with promptly and that delays in processing applications for compensation should be avoided where possible. To this end, some initiatives have and are being implemented. To assist the Garda chief medical officer in addressing the elimination of the backlog in the Garda medical department, sanction was provided by my Department to engage a temporary medical practitioner in respect of the period from 9 December 2002 to 7 March 2003. During the period of the temporary appointment, the medical practitioner dealt exclusively with compensation applications and priority was given to cases on the waiting list at the Garda medical department for two years or more. Following a renewed request from the assistant commissioner with responsibility for human resource management, my Department recently approved the engagement of a temporary medical practitioner for a temporary period to further reduce the backlog.

Within my own area of responsibility, I am taking steps to establish a Garda Síochána Compensation Tribunal, along the lines recommended by the committee set up in 1997 to review and make recommendations on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Acts 1941 and 1945.

The background to this initiative is that the committee set up in 1997 consisted of representatives from the Departments of Finance and Justice, the Chief State Solicitor's office, the Attorney General's office, Garda management and two Garda associations: the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and the Garda Representative Association. A medical practitioner who had experience of life assurance work was also on the committee which was chaired by an independent chairman. The committee presented its report to the then Minister on 28 August 1997.

The committee made 14 recommendations which included the repeal of the existing Acts and the setting up of a new Garda Síochána compensation tribunal on a statutory basis. The tribunal will operate along the same lines as the criminal injuries compensation tribunal, the main difference being that Gardaí would be compensated for "pain and suffering". It is envisaged that trainee gardaí who suffer malicious injuries prior to attestation would be covered under the new scheme and that claims already refused under the existing Acts as being minor would be allowed go before the tribunal.

Following acceptance by the four Garda staff associations of the report of the public service benchmarking body and the terms of Sustaining Progress, an agreed report of the Garda conciliation council recording such agreement was signed by all parties on 28 November 2003. The establishment of a Garda compensation tribunal is one of the items included in the related pay agreement and the modernisation agenda in the Garda Síochána. It is intended that this matter will be finalised with the Garda associations within the next couple of months. I am confident that the Garda staff associations will co-operate with the necessary legislative change.