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Wide-ranging bill on courts, insurance passed

29 Jun 2023 / legislation Print

Wide-ranging bill on courts, insurance passed

A bill that contains reforms in the areas of insurance, the courts and legal services has passed its final stages in the Dáil.

Having been passed by both houses of the Oireachtas, it will now go to the President to be signed into law.

The Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2023 includes changes aimed at making Courts Service operations more efficient, while it also clears the way for the introduction of legal partnerships between solicitors and barristers.

Duty of care

The bill amends the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1995 in a move that the Government says is aimed at making insurance cheaper.

The Department of Justice says that the changes will ensure that businesses, community groups and event organisers fulfil their duty-of-care responsibilities, while also acknowledging the importance of personal responsibility of visitors, recreational users and trespassers.

The bill includes four key elements linked to occupiers’ duty of care:

  • Inserting into primary law a number of recent court decisions that rebalance the duty of care owed by occupiers to visitors and recreational users,
  • Changing the standard to clarify that when the occupier of a property has acted with reckless disregard for a visitor or customer, it is the standard of reckless disregard, rather than reasonable grounds, that should apply in relation to any consideration of liability,
  • Limits to the circumstances in which a court can impose liability on the occupier of a premises where a person has entered onto premises for the purpose of committing an offence, and
  • Allowing for a broader range of scenarios where it can be shown that a visitor or customer has voluntarily assumed a risk resulting in harm.

“These measures strike a new and reasonable balance between the responsibilities of the owner or operator of a premises to keep their customers and visitors safe, and what individuals themselves must do when entering a business, club or community building,” commented Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (pictured).

Centralised office for juries

The changes to legislation relating to the courts and court officers are aimed at making the operation of the Courts Service more efficient.

These amendments include:

  • Streamlining the summoning of jurors by one centralised office,
  • Enabling the Courts Service to designate any court office as a centralised office, for the purpose of carrying out specified court business exclusively, or in addition to a local office,
  • Updating the qualifications for appointment as Master or Deputy Master of the High Court,
  • Outlining the circumstances in which a County Registrar will cease to hold office, and the circumstances in which the Government may remove a County Registrar from office,
  • Conferring statutory powers on the President of the Circuit Court and the President of the District Court to issue practice directions,
  • Providing for an offence of obstruction or interference with a sheriff under the Court Officers Act 1945, and
  • Permitting a single judge of the Court of Appeal to hear certain specified applications and appeals.

Amendments to the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 will enable commencement of the section of the act allowing for the introduction of legal partnerships between barristers and solicitors, and between barristers and other barristers.

Other amendments set out how a levy imposed on legal practitioners is calculated.

Citizenship and data

The bill will also change legislation governing the granting of Irish citizenship.

The period of time a non-Irish child born in Ireland must wait before they can be naturalised will be reduced from five to three years.

There are also amendments to the International Protection Act 2015.

Changes to the Data Protection Act 2018 will allow the District Court to hear data-protection actions, and will also broadens the circumstances in which a reprimand can be issued by the Data Protection Commission (DPC).

Another proposal, which has been criticised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, will prohibit the disclosure of confidential information by people engaging with the DPC in connection with certain defined functions that include investigations and inquiries.

Amendments to the Bankruptcy Act 1988 are aimed at modernising the bankruptcy process and reducing what the department describes as “unnecessary costs and delays”.

“This bill addresses a number of issues that may pose obstacles to achieving justice in personally challenging legal processes, such as bankruptcy and the judicial-complaints process,” said Minister McEntee.

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