Faux amis? – the saga of Setanta

Language teachers refer to faux amis, or false friends, as those words which appear the same in different languages but which in fact have very different meanings.

The ostensibly similar motor insurance regimes of the UK & Ireland were examined by the Irish High Court on 4 September 2015 in connection with Setanta Insurance. Both countries’ regimes give effect to the EU Motor Insurance Directives. Both regimes set out the scopes of (a) their respective Motor Insurers’ Bureaux’ obligations and (b) of their respective insurance compensation funds.

Setanta, which offered motor policies in Ireland, went into liquidation in April 2014. Some 1,700 to 2,000 claims were outstanding, valued in aggregate at around €90 million. Had the insolvency happened in the UK, the FSCS would have picked up the claims in full, with the UK’s MIB having no role. The question for Mr Justice Hedigan in the Setanta case (Law Society of Ireland v MIBI) was where, as a matter of Irish law, should the liability for these claims lie? Should they fall to the general insurance insolvency compensation scheme or should they be met by the MIBI?

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