I remind Members that on Report Stage a Senator may speak only once, except the proposer of the amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also, Opposition amendments must be seconded. Amendments Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages
This group of amendments has been tabled for the purpose of ensuring that the provisions of the Bill in regard to periodic payment orders, PPOs, will apply to actions that are before the courts and have been the subject of interim orders for the payment of damages to the plaintiff. I have been informed by the State Claims Agency that there are 65 cases in respect of which interim orders have been made. All of these cases involved catastrophic injury to infants or wards of court. The Government wishes to make certain that the Bill will apply to these cases, as they are the very cases that need to be regularised in a formal PPO process following the enactment of this Bill. These cases have been adjourned for specific periods as the interim orders made provision for the care needs of the plaintiffs for a number of years, mostly two or three years. In the absence of legislation enabling periodic payment orders these cases have been made returnable to specific dates in the future. In making the orders for interim payments the Judiciary was cognisant of the fact that legislation in this area was forthcoming.
Amendment No. 1 inserts a new sub-paragraph into section 51L(2)(b). The purpose of this amendment is to make it clear that the court in considering whether a periodic payment order should be made must have regard to whether an interim order for the payment of damages to the plaintiff has been made and the amount of such damages. Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, are consequential amendments arising from the insertion of the new provision provided for in amendment No. 1.
Amendment No. 6 inserts a new paragraph (b) in section 51O(2) to better reflect the intention that the Bill will apply to action where an interim order has been made. A new text at paragraph (b) no longer contains a reference to "a final decision" which means that subsection (2) can, therefore, be deleted. Amendment No. 5 is a technical amendment consequential on amendment No. 6.
Amendments Nos. 7 to 11, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
These amendments make technical changes to Part IV of the Bill, which concerns open disclosure. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 correct the order of the definitions section to put open disclosure meeting in its proper position ahead of open disclosure of a patient safety incident. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 remove commas which are not necessary to the meaning of their respective sections and they are being removed for clarity. Amendment No. 11 substitutes the word "subsequent" with "additional", which in respect of an additional information meeting is the term used in the relevant section.
On behalf of the Tánaiste and myself, I thank Senators for their support and constructive engagement on this Bill. The Bill as passed by this House provides that a court may award damages by way of a periodic payments order, having considered the best interests of the plaintiff and all of the circumstances of the case, including the views of the parties. The court must be satisfied that payments under the order will be secure.
The Bill also provides for the indexation of periodic payments and that the payments will be tax free. In the unlikely event that a person in receipt of a periodic payment becomes bankrupt the Bill provides for such payments will not be vested in the official assignee. The Bill includes important provisions to support voluntary open disclosure of patient safety incidents.
I thank Senators for facilitating the inclusion of these provisions. The measures of open disclosure form part of the Government's wider approach to improving patient safety throughout our health system.
As is customary when legislation passes, it is important to thank all the parties who have helped in bringing it into force. It will inevitably protect vulnerable people who have had awards made by the courts. Unfortunately, there have been examples in the past of significant awards having been made, with no account having been taken of the future care needs of the people in respect of whom the awards were made.
I thank the Minister for this legislation. It is a further example of good law being enacted by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I thank all parties for their work on the Bill and I commend the Minister of State for his work in this regard.
I concur with Senator Martin Conway. It is good when Bills are passed. The periodic payment order has been dealt with. With all other Senators, I received an e-mail last night from the Irish Patients Association on the issue of open disclosure. It seemed to be of the belief that the issue was to be discussed today and we were asked not to rubber-stamp any proposal. However, this business seems to relate to periodic payment orders. Will the Minister of State clarify the position? The Irish Patients Association does great work on behalf of patients and will, no doubt, have an opportunity to deal with the topic on a different day.
I confirm that it is entirely separate.
I echo the comments of colleagues. This is important legislation which I have followed intensively. It is a rare example of legislation the practical effect of which is clear. It shows the ability and willingness of all parties in the House to work together constructively with the Minister of State, the Department, the Tánaiste and officials. It has been an anomaly. While nothing can fully compensate someone in these circumstances, we can compensate in a way that is beneficial. Maith sibh.