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Judges Propose New Rules on Compensation in Jury Trials
Juries in Scottish Civil damages cases, such as personal injury actions, will now be given guidance as to the appropriate level of compensation. The change follows a ruling of the Inner House of the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court. The case was an appeal against 'excessive' compensation awards. In one case, a young girl had lost her mother in a road accident and was awarded £120,000. In the other, a father was awarded £90,000 following the death of his son in an accident at work.
Arguments in the case revolved around the gap between awards made by judges and those made by juries. In general, awards made by juries are higher than those made by judges. The court accepted the argument that this gap is unjustifiably wide, and could result in vastly different awards in similar cases, depending on whether the case was heard before a jury or not.
In this case, the Lord President, Lord Hamilton felt that the awards were excessive. Sounding a general note, Lord Hamilton stated that the absence of any directions to the jury regarding levels of compensation was a "less than satisfactory aspect of civil jury trials", and it was time "to set a framework for civil juries against which they can address levels of damages".
Stating that the objective was to reduce the gap between awards made but judges and those made by juries, Lord Hamilton proposed three measures designed to lead to greater consistency:
• Judges should have greater regard to awards available to the jury;
• 'Fuller' guidance should be given to juries as to the level of damages available to them;
• Appeal courts should continue to intervene in the interests of justice.
Proposing a means of implementing this, Lord Hamilton suggested that both parties to the case meet in the absence of the jury and address the judge on an appropriate level of compensation. Having regard to these submissions and his own judgment and experience, suggest a "spectrum" of possible awards to the jury.
The result is likely to be that awards made by juries will be reduced, and be more in line with those made by judges alone. The benefit will be greater consistency of awards of damages, and this in turn will lead to greater forseeability.
If you would like further information on raising an action for damages contact our expert personal injury solicitors today.