Judge rejects ‘bias’ allegation in O’Donnell bankruptcy
Mr Justice Charleton says Commercial Court could not function if having a bank account stopped judges hearing cases
Mr Justice Peter Charleton: seeking to have his ruling set aside simply because he did his family banking with Bank of Ireland was “frankly absurd”
A High Court judge yesterday rejected claims he was biased when considering Bank of Ireland’s application to have solicitor Brian O’Donnell and his psychiatrist wife, Mary Patricia, declared bankrupt.
Mr Justice Peter Charleton said both his privacy and constitutional rights had been breached after a member of the O’Donnell family said publicly in court that the judge has a Bank of Ireland mortgage.
The disclosure was made after the judge had been told the O’Donnells were seeking to have his decision to adjudicate them bankrupt deemed a mistrial. He dismissed the application and said that seeking to have his ruling set aside simply because he did his family banking with Bank of Ireland was “frankly absurd”.
Last month, Mr Justice Charleton declared the O’Donnells bankrupt. In a reserved judgment, he found that the couple’s main centre of interest was Ireland and not England as they had claimed.
Failure to repay loans
Bank of Ireland had applied to have the couple declared bankrupt when they failed to satisfy a judgment for €71.57 million obtained against them by the bank in December 2011 after they had failed to repay loans.
When the matter returned before the court yesterday, Conan Fegan, for the O’Donnells, said his instructing solicitors, McNamee McDonnell Duffy, of Newry, Co Down, wished to come off-record and no longer represent the couple. There had been a breakdown in relations between the parties, counsel said.
Rory O’Beirn, who said he was the brother of Mary Patricia O’Donnell, told the judge that certain matters in relation to the case needed to be clarified.
He said these matters had been put in correspondence sent to the judge, including details that somebody with the judge’s name had a mortgage with Bank of Ireland.
Mr O’Beirn said there was a concern that the judge had shown “objective bias” towards the O’Donnells.
In reply, Judge Charleton said: “Yes, I have a bank account and a mortgage with Bank of Ireland on my home. I also have an account with the post office. . . so what?”
He rejected any suggestion his banking arrangements had in any way influenced his decision to adjudicate the O’Donnells bankrupt.
The judge said he did not have, as Mr O’Beirn had suggested, multiple mortgages like some property developers with Bank of Ireland. He also said he did not have shares in the bank.
Dealings ‘at arm’s length’
Mr Justice Charleton said that just because he deals with the bank “at arm’s length in matters of family commerce” was not a ground for a mistrial. As a judge of the Commercial Court, he heard cases involving the banks and large amounts of money lent before 2008 on a regular basis.
If having a bank account with one of them prevented a judge from hearing a case, nothing would get done, he added.
Mr Justice Charleton said the O’Donnells had the right to appeal against his decision to the Supreme Court.