Awards in personal injury cases in the High Court have dropped by nearly 19%.

The figures for last year were published today in the Courts Service Annual Report for 2018.

There has been no increase in the number of personal injury cases taken, with 8,900 new cases recorded last year.

The average award in non-medical negligence cases is now €351,263.

The overall level of awards in medical negligence cases dropped by 7.5%, while the average award per case dropped by nearly half, falling 47% from €1,976,088 to €1,038,840.

The report also outlines the number of criminal cases before the courts last year.

There were 400,000 new criminal offences in 2018.

In the Central Criminal Court, 25 murder trials took place, while 69 defendants went on trial for 419 rape offences.

Figures outlining average sentences for those convicted of rape show more than half (52.48%) were sentenced to between five and ten years in prison while more than 40% were sentenced to more than ten years.

Less than 5% of cases received sentences of between two and five years.

In the district courts, there has been a 7% reduction in the number of new driving offences.

There were fewer convictions in this area due to a "third payment option" introduced last year.

The number of emergency barring orders last year jumped by more than a third in 2018, with a total of 1,270 sought last year.

In debt cases, there has been a massive drop in the number of personal insolvency applications, down 62% from 2017.

Possession cases in the courts are down by 52% from 3,356 to 1,607, while possession orders made have also dropped by 20%.

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Speaking at the launch of the report today, the Chief Justice Frank Clarke said that some of these figures should be treated "with a little caution". 

He said the cases involving catastrophic injuries at birth can involve very large sums, but that a change in "a relatively small number of such cases coming before the courts in any year can have a significant effect on the overall figures and in particular the average".

But the Chief Justice said that the fact that there was a "significant drop" in the average level of High Court award in personal injury actions is an "important objective set of figures that need to be taken into account" in the debate around these cases. 

These figures have been published in the same week that new legislation that will provide guidelines for judges in making personal injuries awards is finalised. 

The Judicial Council Bill will pass through the Seanad tomorrow. 

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the Government is committed to addressing insurance fraud and exaggerated claims. 

He said the Judicial Council Bill provides for setting up a personal injuries guidelines committee, which would have a role in setting general parameters for the levels of damages awarded in personal injuries cases. 

Mr Flanagan told reporters that he is very pleased the bill is at it's final stages. 

He said it's "absolutely essential" that we have greater consistency in terms of awards and the Judicial Council framework will ensure that.