HC Deb 05 May 1965 vol 711 cc1351-2
35. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Attorney-General what conclusions have been reached on the need for a full inquiry into the present state of the law and practice relating to the assessment of damages for personal injuries; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)

My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor thinks that the Law Commission, when it is set up, may well wish to review certain aspects of the law and practice relating to the assessment of damages for personal injuries. These would include such matters as the desirability—in appropriate cases—of trying the question of liability before settling the amount of the damages, the receipt of actuarial evidence by the court, whether the amount of damages awarded under different heads should be specified and also whether the court should have power to award periodic payments instead of a lump sum.

Mr. Dudley Smith

I thank the Attorney-General for coming here to answer this one Question. Does he agree that the present situation tends to militate against poorer sections of the community and that often because of financial hardship they find themselves in a position of settling out of court, whereas if they had waited they could probably have got far more substantial damages?

The Attorney-General

I have no doubt that that suggestion will be very seriously considered. The existence of and, happily, the prevalent use of legal aid mitigates a good deal of the difficulty that the poorer person used to meet in the courts.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware—as of course he is—that today many injured persons fail to obtain compensation because they are unable to bring home proof of damage to a particular tortfeasor? Will he, therefore, take that into account in any inquiries that are undertaken, or in the terms of reference for any inquiry that he may set up?

The Attorney-General

I am very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for reminding me that before an action in tort can be successful negligence by the defendant must be proved. The implications of the supplementary question involve the somewhat more intractable problem of compulsory insurance, about which I can hold out no positive assurances at this stage.

Mr. J. T. Price

When my right hon. and learned Friend is considering this matter further, with particular reference to running-down accidents where personal injuries are suffered as a result of motor accidents, will he also bear in mind the effect of the contributory negligence legislation, which has created all sorts of fictional attempts to apportion damages as between the person who inflicts the damage and the person who suffers the damage? Is not this a very important consideration if justice is to be brought into these transactions, particularly with regard to applicants for damages who are not strongly represented in the legal sense?

The Attorney-General

I doubt whether the judges engaged in this difficult task regard their attempts as fictional. They do their best in a very difficult situation. Again, this is no doubt one of the matters that the Law Commission will consider in due course.

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