Law Reform Commission: Annual Report for 1999

By Órla Gillen, Thursday, 27th July 2000 | 0 comments
Filed under: 2000.



Law Reform Commission: Annual Report for 1999

The President of the Law Reform Commission, Mr Justice Budd, notes in his foreword that in comparison with the mid 70's, when the Commission was established, the rate of change in society has quickened and, in response, there are now many agencies  which  are, in one way or another, interested in law  reform.

He goes on to state that the Commission's Second Programme, which is shortly to be published, will indicate the basis on which "we intend to co-operate with others who are interested in law reform and those who are responsible for the implementation of our recommendations. "

Among the year's highlights was the Consultation Paper on Statutory Drafting and Interpretation: Plain Language  and  the Law.  (The Consultation Paper is the first stage in the Commission's examination of the language and style in which  legislation is drafted, and the interpretation of legislation by the courts. The (final) Report on the subject will be published this Autumn.)

The Commission, makes a number of provisional recommendations, which aim to  improve the accessibility of legislation and make it easier to understand. Its recommendations are based on the principle that, under the Rule of Law, legislation should be intelligible to the people it governs.

The Commission Paper highlights the link between the drafting of legislation, and its interpretation in the courts. It points out that  the  highly  detailed,  complex  and sometimes antiquated drafting style to be found in Irish legislation is in part  attributable to the strictly literal approach to statutory interpretation which is often taken by the Irish courts.

The Report also refers to the Commission's work on Collateral Benefits in Damages Awards. At present, the law states that sums of money payable to plaintiffs in respect of non-fatal personal injuries shall not be deducted from awards of damages to those plaintiffs in civil actions. These sums of money may include, insurance payments, charitable donations, social welfare payments  and certain pension payments and forms of sick pay.

The present law can give rise to double or over compensation. The costs of a system which permits double compensation are borne by all of society in the form of higher insurance premiums, employment costs and the cost of living in general. The Commission's Consultation Paper on reform of the system was published last September and the (final) Report will be out in December.

The Commission provisionally recommended the enactment of a general rule of deduction, from awards of damages, of collateral benefits which have the effect of compensating for the same loss as the damages awarded, to replace the present general rule of non-deduction.

Among the topics which the Commission is exploring this year are:

  • e-commerce, in particular the question of whether it is the court where the buyer or seller is located, which is to be allocated jurisdiction in respect of disputes arising out of an e-commerce transaction
  • the question of whether the mental  element in murder should be extended to capture   a situation in which the accused person was indifferent to whether death resulted from his action. An example would be as in the case of a terrorist whose bomb is timed to go off in a warehouse at 4 am and unexpectedly kills a security person;
  • the special limitation period, which should apply, where a child has been subject to non-sexual abuse and has been too traumatised to bring action within the normal period.
  • the law relating to manslaughter by companies. Here the central problem is that companies do not have minds or intentions in the same way as natural persons so that a new law may have to be made which imputes the intention of a company's director or senior staff to the company.
  • exemplary and aggravated damages, which are awarded in a civil case, when the behaviour of the defendant has been so bad that the court wishes to go beyond compensating the plaintiff to punishing the defendant, as may occur in the claims currently being brought by smokers against US tobacco companies.

For further information, contact: David Gwynn Morgan (01-6377614)