Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

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

The Bill's purpose is to provide that, where a court has dismissed a case on the basis of being a fraudulent action, it is automatically referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. Currently, if an insurance claim is taken to court and the evidence presented shows to be fraudulent, it is often the case that no action is taken against the claimant. There is good evidence to suggest that, to factor in fraudulent claims, a large cost is built into the insurance premiums of businesses across the State, leading to uncompetitiveness. Evidence provided to us by Insurance Ireland and many others dealing with this matter indicates a systemic abuse of the court process by fraudulent claimants. However, no action is being taken. I ask for the House's support in providing for a direct referral to the DPP from a court when a case is dismissed because of fraudulent evidence.

No Deputy wishes to diminish the right of any citizen who has been harmed or injured to take a case, but as is clearly shown by the evidence presented to Deputies by various organisations and by the statistics on prosecutions in this context, only one case has been referred and prosecuted. This sends a signal to many people that there is no downside to trying to gain money fraudulently.

The Bill contains a standard provision providing a definition relating to the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. Section 2 inserts a subsection into section 26 of the 2004 Act to provide that, where a court dismisses an action pursuant to that section, the court must direct that the transcript of the action and any relevant evidence be sent to the DPP. Section 3 is a standard provision providing for the citation and commencement of the Bill.

This is a short Bill, but it could have a significant impact by acting as a deterrent against people who regularly take fraudulent court cases. That they can do this without there being a downside is anathema to basic decency in terms of supporting businesses and individuals' rights to go about their lawful business without the fear of extortion. That extortion is almost being supported by the State, as the State has made no meaningful effort in years to address this issue. If this Bill were enacted, we could employ the Garda and an insurance fraud squad to investigate these issues.

The current situation is unfair on businesses throughout the country. Their public liability insurance has increased by as much as 70% in the past four years alone even though the consumer price index only increased by 0.9% per year. These are the types of cost being incurred and carried by businesses continually. I am almost making a Second Stage speech now, so I will elaborate further later.

I urge the House, in particular the Government, to address this matter in a meaningful way and to accept that fraudulent insurance claims are having a negative impact on business and our economic competitiveness. Despite being clear, the emotional and psychological impact on small business owners, be they publicans, hoteliers or shopkeepers, seems to be going unreported. They are constantly being intimidated with threats of being taken to court by fraudsters. Often, nothing happens beyond an insurance company settling because fighting the claim in court is not worth the hassle. Sometimes, the policy holder is not even informed that the claim has been settled.

We have much work to do on this matter. Under the programme for Government, there is an obligation on the Government to act on this, particularly given that the cost of insurance working group was established with that purpose in mind. I urge cross-party support for addressing the issue of fraudulent claims in the economy.

Is the Bill being 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."

I would like to inform the Government that I would have no objection to it taking a hold of this Bill and moving it in Government time either.

Question put and agreed to.