Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, published her Department’s Action Plan 2021 – Strategic Priorities & Initiatives on 22nd February. The Irish SME Association (ISME) is delighted to see many of the issues upon which we have lobbied being brought forward for legislation.
The Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 has stalled since 2019, but the Action Plan says it will be on the Statute Book by Q2, the fourth anniversary of our initial request to the Department for a perjury statute.
There is a commitment to produce an outline bill to reform the Defamation Act by the end of the year. This is sorely needed for SMEs across the country. ISME’s retail, hospitality and forecourt members are suffering greatly from the extortion permitted under the current legislation. The issue is also reputationally damaging for Ireland as the European Court of Human Rights has commented on the effects of our existing laws. Our constitutional right to freedom of expression is also effectively negated by the current act.
The commitment to amend the Occupiers’ Liability Act is much looser, with only a review committed to. This issue is of systemic importance in the cost of insurance, and will continue to drive higher insurance costs even if damages are lowered. The occupiers or operators of a premises owe a duty of care which effectively absolves members of the public from exercising care or common sense. This is unsustainable and must be quickly addressed.
Similarly, the commitments on the recalibration of legal costs are loose, with only an evaluation to be completed by Q4 2021. ISME is calling this unacceptable.
The fact that, in 2021, the State is still investigating ways to get fraudulent claimants to pay the legal costs of defendants they have fraudulently sued is an outrage. The courts continue to entertain fraudsters (and exaggerated claims) on an “access to justice” basis, yet when they fail to discharge their costs, nothing is done about it. This is not something we can afford to wait years to address. Plaintiffs must be able to pay their costs if they lose. They can enter into a bond to do so, or their lawyers can do this on their behalf, as exists in certain cases in the US.
Speaking today ISME CEO, Neil McDonnell said:
‘The commitment to action in this new plan is laudable. We do not need any more studies, commissions or consultations to know what is required. What is required is action, the sooner the better.’