By Danny Khoshaba, Partner and Antonia Fox Koob, Law Graduate
The Personal Injury Commission Bill 2020 (“Bill”) has been introduced in Parliament of the New South Wales. If passed, the Personal Injury Commission (“PIC”) will be established on 1 December 2020.
Reason for the Bill
The purpose of the Bill is to establish the PIC which will deal with certain matters under both the workers compensation legislation and motor accidents legislation and provide a central registry for that purpose.
Currently, the Workers Compensation Commission (“WCC”), established under the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998, exercises certain functions under workers compensation legislation while the State Insurance and Regulatory Authority (“SIRA”), constituted under the State Insurance and Care Governance Act 2015, provides various dedicated dispute resolution services under motor accidents legislation.
This has resulted in some processes being duplicated, particularly in connection with medical assessments. For example, the President of the WCC is responsible for appointing medical specialists to carry out workers compensation medical assessments while SIRA is similarly responsible for motor accident matters.
The establishment of the PIC has therefore been proposed to allow for a more consolidated and streamlined service for workers compensation and motor accident matters.
How the PIC will operate
The PIC will use a common registry and encourage the use of common practice and procedure wherever appropriate. In particular, it will provide for medical assessors for both workers compensation legislation and motor accidents legislation, appointed by the President of the PIC, and merit reviewers for motor accident matter and mediators.
The PIC will not be a court to replace the WCC. Instead, the PIC will carry out some of the motor accident dispute resolution functions currently carried out by SIRA. The PIC will also have separate Divisions to deal with its specialist workers compensation and motor accidents jurisdictions.
Schedule 3 of the Bill is the Division for the Workers Compensation Division of the PIC, and includes provisions for the allocation of functions to the Division and the constitution of the PIC when exercising functions allocated to the Division. Schedule 4 is the equivalent for the Motor Accidents Division of the PIC.
Further, the reforms are not intended to affect the underlying substantive law concerning the entitlements of injured persons to damages or other compensation or assistance under workers compensation legislation or motor accidents legislation.
Establishment and functions of the PIC
Part of the principal reforms of the Bill is to deal with proceedings justly, quickly, cost effectively and with as little formality as possible.
Part 2 of the Bill provides for the establishment of the PIC, including membership, divisions, delegations, commission rules and registrars. The PIC is proposed to consist of the President (who must be a judge), Deputy Presidents, principal members, senior members, and general members.
As mentioned above, the functions of the PIC will be allocated and exercised in two Divisions, the Workers Compensation Division and the Motor Accidents Division. Each Division will have a Division Schedule which provides for the composition and functions of the Division. They will also have a Division Head and members.
A Rule Committee will be created for PIC to make rules to regulate its practice and procedure.
Part 4 of the Bill allows the President of the PIC to appoint medical assessors for workers compensation and motor accident matters, and merit reviewers for motor accident matters. It also enables the PIC to appoint mediators for work injury damages claims under the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998.
Part 5 outlines the practice and procedure of the PIC, including how to commence proceedings in the PIC, the participation of the PIC in proceedings, and the conduct of proceedings. The Bill enables SIRA to intervene in proceedings before the PIC. It also notes that proceedings need not be conducted by formal hearing and may be conducted by way of a conference between parties, including by telephone or other means.
Of note, Part 7 repeals the Workers Compensation Commission Rules 2011 on the establishment day of the Bill.
In regards to a transition from the current system, Schedule 1 of the Bill includes provisions allowing for the abolition of the WCC and certain existing motor accident services provided by SIRA on the establishment day of the PIC. It also provides for the transfer of existing members of the WCC and certain other existing officers of the Commission and SIRA.
Evidently, the new PIC will require a shift from the well known practices and procedure of the Workers Compensation Commission and SIRA but will hopefully allow for the more streamlined and cohesive legal service it promises.
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