HC Deb 09 November 1999 vol 337 cc502-3W
Mr. Dismore

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department when he expects to respond(a) to the Law Commission's report of March 1998 on liability for psychiatric illness and (b) to the Law Commission's report of December 1997 on aggravated and exemplary damages. [97540]

Mr. Lock

I am pleased to be able to announce that the Government accept the recommendations on aggravated and restitutionary damages that the Law Commission made in "Aggravated, Exemplary and Restitutionary Damages" (Law Com Rep No. 247). They will legislate when a suitable legislative opportunity arises.

This Report also made recommendations for legislation on exemplary, or punitive, damages. The Government are grateful to the Law Commission for its important and painstaking work on this subject, and to those who expressed their views during the Law Commission's consultation exercises on the topic. The contending arguments for a complete legislative overhaul of exemplary damages, as recommended by the Law Commission, or abolition as preferred by many commentators, are finely balanced. In the absence of a clear consensus on the issue the Government have decided not to take forward the Law Commission's proposals for legislation on exemplary damages. It may be that some further judicial development of the law in this area might help clarify the issues.

The Government have carefully considered the Law Commission's recommendations in its Report on "Liability for Psychiatric Illness" (Law Corn Rep No. 249). They believe that it would be worthwhile to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the individual and aggregate effects of the proposals for legislation that are contained in this Report and "Damages for Personal Injury: Medical, Nursing and Other Expenses; Collateral Benefits" (Law Corn Rep No. 262) and "Claims for Wrongful Death" (Law Com Rep No. 263). I have asked my officials to undertake the assessment in co-ordination with officials from the other Departments which have an interest in the outcome. It is hoped that the full assessment will be available to inform the Government's final decision on the Law Commission's proposals early next year.

This assessment is only concerned with those Reports which recommend legislation concerning eligibility for damages and the size of damages awards. It will not consider "Damages for Personal Injury: Non-Pecuniary Loss (Law Commission Report No. 257)", in which the Law Commission offers opinions of which the courts are free to take such account, if any, as they choose in the assessment of damages. This is an area of law which is in the courts' independent sphere and where the Government have no plans to legislate.