Page 3501 - Week 09 - Thursday, 21 August 2008

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I am advised that there are probably about three to five nominal defendant claims each year. I heard the Chief Minister say that there are eight outstanding claims. However, with respect to the problems with the three-month period and section 86, I hear the assurance that the police do a wonderful job in these matters, but there may be circumstances that are beyond their control. If someone gives false information, either wittingly or unwittingly, three months may not be long enough for a report, despite their very best efforts. We do need to have something in place to ensure that can be overcome.

With the government’s short time frame, I do not know whether the assurances that the government has given will actually come into play. I understand that what the profession is going to do is that, if there is any remote chance that the nominal defendant might be involved, the nominal defendant’s office will be notified of a claim as a matter of course. So your five claims a year might go up by goodness knows how much.

A far more sensible solution would be to accept what I have got there, at least in the interim. If there are only five claims a year, we are probably not going to have more than a couple between now and Christmas. If you do need to go past three months, I do not share the confidence that Dr Foskey expressed that there is enough in the legislation for a court to get around it. My understanding, from what I am told—and I am relying on advice from the Lawyers Alliance—is that there is not really anything there; that this is a blanket three-month provision. My amendment would simply give the court the ability to grant an extension.

If there is some better way of doing it, let us do it now. It is a bit like putting a pedestrian crossing in a difficult street after someone has been skittled. It would be far better, if you realise there is a chance of someone being skittled, to put that pedestrian crossing in now. I would much rather have something tidied up now rather than have a couple of situations arise where someone’s claim—and we are talking often about victims who have horrendous injuries through no fault of their own—might be prejudiced because that three-month test cannot be satisfied; hence my amendment.

If there is some better way of doing it, let us do it, by all means, but let us do it now. If we cannot, I would commend my amendment, because at least it ensures that potential victims are protected until such time as something better can be put in place. I commend my bill to the Assembly. I again thank the government for allowing it to be debated today. I commend my proposed further amendment. I think it is probably a very sensible compromise between the date of 1 October, when we do have problems because of the caretaker period commencing on 12 September, and what may have been too far away—1 March. I think that is probably the best of both worlds. I thank members for their support of the bill in principle and I commend my amendments and the subsequent proposed amendment to the Assembly.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill agreed to in principle.

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