I am delighted to introduce the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 to the House on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and look forward to hearing the contributions from Senators. This Bill is aimed at replacing the Garda compensation scheme that is currently in operation with a new statutory scheme that will reduce the waiting times and costs associated with claims for malicious injury to gardaí or their family members. The key aims of the Bill are to reduce the length of time it takes for Garda compensation claims to be dealt with from the initial application through to award, to ensure settlement and resolution of claims can be reached earlier in the process and to set out clear time limits relating to each stage of the process. It also aims to reduce the number of applications proceeding to court by allowing for the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, to assess quantum in the first instance, which will in turn reduce the legal and administrative costs associated with the scheme. At present, with backlogs in the High Court, it can take up to four years for a case for Garda compensation to be heard. That results in significant legal costs, which are covered entirely by the State.
Before I move to the provisions of the Bill, I will outline broadly how the new scheme is proposed to operate. The member, or his or her specified dependant in the case of a fatal injury, will apply to the Garda Commissioner for initial assessment of his or her case within six months of the injury. The Garda Commissioner will arrange for a reporting officer to determine if the person is an eligible applicant and, if so, to prepare a written report within a specified time period, to conclude whether the injury or death appears to have been caused as a result of a malicious incident as defined in the Bill. If the report concludes the injury or death appears to have been caused as a result of a malicious incident, the member or his or her specified dependant is entitled to an assessment of compensation.
If the report concludes the injury or death was not caused as a result of a malicious incident, the member can seek an independent review of that finding. An independent review officer will determine whether the finding of a reporting officer should be confirmed or overturned. If overturned, the member is entitled to an assessment of compensation.
Where a member is entitled to an assessment of compensation, the Garda Commissioner will arrange for an application to be made to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board on his or her behalf. PIAB will process the application in accordance with the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act of 2003, as amended, and will make an assessment by reference to the personal injury guidelines. If either party rejects it, the applicant will receive authorisation from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board to proceed to court. The State Claims Agency will manage the court proceedings on behalf of the Garda Commissioner.
I will now turn the detail of the Bill. The Bill is divided into seven Parts and I will outline its key provisions. Part 1 sets out the Title of the Bill and other legislation that the Bill interacts with and provides for commencement orders for the coming into force of the Bill once enacted. It sets out the relevant definitions for the Bill, including the key definitions of "malicious incident" and "member".
The current Acts make a distinction between injuries of a minor and non-minor nature. This Bill removes this distinction and ensures all injuries inflicted as a result of a malicious incident are covered by this scheme. The transitional arrangements that will apply to applications received prior to the commencement of the scheme are set out in section 5. For those applications where a determination on whether a member has been maliciously injured has not yet been made in my Department, these applications will fall under the new process as outlined in this Bill. In cases where the Minister has given authorisation for an application for compensation to proceed to the High Court, those claims will proceed as if the 1941 to 1945 Acts have not been repealed, and applications already initiated in the High Court will remain there. In other words, there will be no change for these proceedings.
Part 2 deals with the application for initial assessment to the Garda Commissioner. The applicant is defined in section 8 and may make an application to the Garda Commissioner specified in section 9. It captures all persons previously permitted to make claims under the 1941 to 1945 Acts. Section 10 states the time limit for making an application, which is six months from the date of the injury or knowledge of the injury, with provision made for late applications in certain circumstances.
Part 3 sets out the appointment of a reporting officer to assess an application. The criteria for the preliminary examination and the determination of an application are detailed in this Part as well. It gives clear timeframes for the completion of a determination, which is four months, with the possibility of an extension of a further two months. Where a determination is made that the application can proceed to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, it sets a timeframe of 30 days for the Garda Commissioner to make the application on behalf of the applicant.
Part 4 provides for the procedures for the independent review process, the creation of a review panel for independent assessment, the criteria for the preparation of a report and clear timelines for the process. The time limit for making an application is 30 days from the date of notice issued to the applicant set out in section 16. A review officer will have three months within which to either make a determination to either confirm or set aside the original decision issued.
Part 5 sets out the application and amendment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act of 2003. It permits the assessment of quantum by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board in Garda compensation cases and provides for the application of the cost provisions in that Act. It allows for certain modifications to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act of 2003 for Garda claims to facilitate the new process. However, the process for acceptance or rejection of an assessment by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board will apply in the same way that it does for other personal injuries actions. This means that where either the applicant or the Garda Commissioner rejects an assessment, an authorisation will issue to the applicant to lodge a claim in the relevant court.
Part 6 sets out the particulars where proceedings are being brought on foot of an authorisation by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board under the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act of 2003. The court will assess whether the injury or death, as the case may be, was the result of a malicious incident, and it will also assess the level of compensation. This Bill mirrors the criteria set out in the Garda Compensation Acts 1941 to 1945, while including the requirement to have regard to the personal injuries guidelines, which will streamline cases with ordinary personal injury claims.
This part does not mention which court the proceedings should be lodged to. This is to allow for the bringing of proceedings to a court which has monetary jurisdiction for the claim, thereby removing the need for all Garda compensation claims to be brought before the High Court. For example, if a Garda member wishes to claim €10,000 in compensation, they may now make their application to the District Court instead of the High Court.
Part 7 sets out miscellaneous provisions of the Bill, including providing for certain amendments to legislation to update reference to the Garda Síochána Compensation Acts 1941 to 1945.
In conclusion, this Bill fulfils the commitment made to change procedures for Garda compensation claims and updates the current scheme to streamline applications. It overhauls the process while retaining the parameters of the current Acts to ensure those that can apply and the criteria for consideration of assessments remain. I think we can all agree that this Bill will streamline the way in which compensation claims by members of An Garda Síochána are dealt with and it will reduce the administrative costs and legal fees associated with the current system, as well as ensuring that gardaí and their families can get access to compensation in a simpler and more efficient process. I look forward to hearing the views today and I commend the Bill to the House.