The National Competitiveness Council (NCC) has said that issues such as insurance and legal costs have not received “the urgent attention they require” to support competitiveness and productivity.
In a report on Ireland’s Competitiveness Challenge 2021, the advisory body makes several recommendations aimed at securing what it describes as “a sustainable and inclusive” economic recovery.
On insurance, the council calls for the impact of the new Personal Injuries Guidelines on awards to be assessed and monitored.
Review of PIAB welcomed
It says that the guidelines should reduce the overall levels of awards in Ireland, and bring them into line with awards in other countries.
The NCC wants the Department of Justice review the early impact of the guidelines, to establish whether they are having the desired impact on award levels, and to publish the findings of the review.
The body backs the Government’s action plan to tackle insurance costs, and says that it is “encouraged” by the progress made so far.
The NCC also welcomes a review of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) being carried out by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The review is focusing on ensuring that more cases are being settled in PIAB, rather than proceeding to litigation.
The advisory group describes the cost of legal services as “fundamental” to the competitiveness of Irish businesses – especially SMEs, where the cost of legal services cannot be spread over large revenues.
The body notes that several measures designed to address the issue of legal costs have been introduced – including the establishment of the Office of the Legal Cost Adjudicator (OLCA) in 2019.
The NCC adds that the Government has also recently approved the general scheme of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021, which will amend the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 in order to allow for the introduction of solicitor-barrister legal partnerships
The council notes that, after the publication of the Report on the Administration of Civil Justice, overseen by Mr Justice Peter Kelly, the Department of Justice committed itself to start work on introducing new scales of legal costs that would be independently drawn up.
“The council believes that the introduction of new scales of legal costs is the most effective way to address high legal costs, and that this should be accelerated,” its report says.