HC Deb 03 March 1965 vol 707 cc1295-7
2. Mr. Abse

asked the Minister without Portfolio if he is aware of the hardship falling upon those who have suffered road or industrial accidents and who have commenced proceedings for damages as a consequence of their being unable to have the issue of liability determined until the final prognosis of their condition is determined; and if he will review the rules of the Supreme Court so that issues of liability and quantum may be tried separately.

Sir Eric Fletcher

I am aware of the hardship that sometimes arises because those who have suffered road or industrial accidents cannot have the issue of liability determined until they are able to quantify their claim for damages. I am familiar with the proposals of the Law Society that in suitable cases the issues of liability and quantum of damages should be tried separately. I have no doubt that this is a matter which will be considered by the Sub-Committee sitting under the chairmanship of Lord Pearson to revise the Rules of the Supreme Court.

Mr. Abse

Will the Minister draw the attention of the Sub-Committee not only to the details presented by the Law Society, but to the general view held that grave anxiety falls upon a worker who has received serious injuries, but who very often has to wait for years before it is possible for him to know whether he will receive anything at all? If the Minister is referring any matter to the Sub-Committee, will he please emphasise the desirability of cases being heard speedily? Will he point out that the present situation prevents this and often leads to injustice?

Sir E. Fletcher

I will see that that matter is considered by the Committee. The House will appreciate that there may be disadvantages in a system which would lead to a duplicity of trials, but I would hope that the Rules would be amended so as to permit that practice to be made possible in suitable cases.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Is the Minister aware that the Admiralty Court primarily tries the question of liability and that thereafter the damages are assessed at a reference before the Registrar, if necessary assisted by merchants? This practice works very well. Will the Minister encourage this in other branches of the courts?

Sir E. Fletcher

I will see that that is considered, but the House should appreciate that a great many of these claims for negligence are settled out of court and that if there were a procedure enabling the question of liability to be determined in advance it might well be that there would be less prospect of as many settlements as there are now.

Mr. J. T. Price

When considering this matter further, will the Minister also bear in mind that about 95 per cent. of all claims at common law, both running down cases and accidents under the Factories Acts, are settled by negotiation outside the courts? In that respect, some of the injustice about which my hon. Friend complained is no doubt allayed. Nevertheless, will the Minister bear in mind, particularly when referring this matter to any Committee, that the whole state of the law at the moment is unsatisfactory under motor insurance, because the indemnity exists for paying damages regardless of all the obscure and almost metaphysical arguments under contributory negligence which take place in the courts and which confound even the best of lawyers, let alone laymen, and this is a matter—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the Minister had better answer at that point.

Sir E. Fletcher

I have no doubt that these matters will be considered by the Committee, and I am sure my hon. Friend would agree that it would be a mistake to take any steps which would prejudice the possibility of a number of actions being settled out of court.

Mr. Hogg

Will the Committee have within its terms of reference the possibility of recommending legislation, in addition to a revision of the Rules of the Supreme Court? There may be questions relating to damages which could not be dealt with within those Rules.

Sir E. Fletcher

I appreciate that there are such questions, but the terms of reference of this Committee are confined to making recommendations for the revision of the Rules of the Supreme Court.