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The title is an acronym for Fact Based Medicine. (Can there be any other kind?)

We hope our doctors are thoughtful, attentive and kind, but we also expect them to be competent, ie, rational. That’s why we expect them to seek the facts. Before you seek the facts you need to know what facts you are seeking. That applies to the legal industry as much as to the medical profession.

The practice of law is much more a collective effort than medicine is. It cleaves more to convention than medicine does, say.

This writer was in High Court 2 in the Round Hall of the Four Courts a few days ago. The Personal Injuries list was called over. It was a very long list. It featured those personal injuries actions which had now reached their hearing date and in which the parties had arrived in court for trial. But they did not get their trial, most of them. They were, metaphorically, in a traffic jam. Cases were still in the list and being called over that had first appeared a week before; that meant the parties and their witnesses (potentially, if not actually) had been returning again and again to the Four Courts seeking a trial and had been failed again and again. Each succeeding day brought a new cohort of cases into the list. They too, failed to get a hearing and would have to come back the next day, and the next day and so on.

The judge struggled to express what everybody was feeling; that it was time to consider abandoning ship, metaphorically, and cancel the list. But he would not do it, unless the Counsel asked him. He then resiled from this, to laughter, saying it was not a matter where they had a vote.

But of course, they do and should. The courts system would not function without the lawyers. However, the forensic traffic jam was a symptom of another problem; a cumulative failure to settle the cases.

Taking a benign view of politics, this is the kind of problem that prompts Ministers for Justice to commission a Report from the likes of The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. See the PDF of the Committee’s 29th Report (dated 2004) HERE- [DOC] CCPP 29th Report – Courts Service

In that Report the Committee remarked;

“At present a very small proportion of personal injuries cases go to trial. However, litigants have the right of access to the courts and the process available should be the dispensing of justice in a speedy, efficient and effective manner.”

And again;

“It… [personal injuries litigation]… is a small proportion of the High Court work. High Court judges are required to hear cases in lists on Personal Injuries, Bail, Bankruptcy, Chancery, Commercial, Common Law Motions Circuit Court Appeals, Family Law, Garda Compensation, Judicial Review, Probate, Proceeds of Crime Act, Asylum, Admiralty, Solicitors Act, Medical Council, Nursing Council, Dental Council, Extradition, European Arrest Warrants, The Hague Convention, The Luxembourg Convention and Crime.”

The Committee failed, among other failures, to look at the implications of the sentence “At present a very small proportion of personal injuries cases go to trial.” The statement is accurate and the credit belongs to the two branches of the legal profession, but those settled cases were not investigated by the Committee. The Committee was to “…examine all aspects of practice and procedure relating to personal injuries litigation and consider whether the present system of practice and pleadings is appropriate to modern personal injuries litigation.”

Surely the criterion of the success or failure of a practice or procedure is that it assist in the process of settlement? If the Committee did not investigate what was good and working in the then current system, how could they be said to have considered “modern personal injuries litigation”. (What is that?)

Then there was the note of regret; “However, litigants have the right of access to the courts…” and the recitation of the various lists, clearly addressed to lay ears. Those lists are not equivalent to each other and some generate vastly more work than others or, conversely, some generate little work.

What is notable is that Reports like this (particularly this one) depart from “initial conditions”. Here, the Minister defined the initial conditions. The Report then recites the then current practices. What is absent is evidence that the Minister’s conditions are pertinent to some real problem or that the current practices are seriously deficient.

We know that the practices and procedures were changed subsequent to the Report.

Now the Personal Injuries List is breaking down.

Don’t expect expressions of regret from any participants, or admissions that the changes for which the Minister was responsible have led to this.