Former Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS) chief executive Michael Fingleton has been afforded another chance to argue that he should not have to face a civil claim for alleged negligent mismanagement of the failed lender.
The Supreme Court has agreed to consider a further appeal from the 85-year-old, acting through his wife and son, Michael Fingleton jnr, under their powers of attorney, claiming he cannot properly defend the case due to his ill-health after suffering a stroke four years ago.
The hearing of his civil trial was provisionally scheduled for hearing in the High Court next March, but this date will likely be dislodged even if his appeal fails due to the timeline involved in a Supreme Court hearing and decision.
The High Court and Court of Appeal both refused to halt the case initiated in 2012 by the liquidators of the State-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), which took over the INBS after it collapsed.
The appeal court found the octogenarian had not established a real or serious risk of an unfair trial or unjust result even though he is incapacitated and unable to contribute to his defence.
The IBRC alleges, among various things, that Mr Fingleton, as managing director and chief executive, had excessive control over the building society’s business and flouted its lending rules.
The claim was originally pitched at €6 billion, the amount lost by the lender after the 2008 property crash. It has since significantly narrowed to about €290 million and centres around five series of loans issued between 2006 and 2009.
The allegations are denied.
Mr Fingleton jnr has said his father, who was worth €75 million in 2006, had less than €25,000 in two personal bank accounts and outstanding judgment debts of more than €10.7 million as of late last year.
A three-judge Supreme Court panel has found the appeal proposed by Mr Fingleton, legally represented by Padraic Lyons SC, raised an issue of general public importance that the top court should determine.
Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan and Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said it appears there is no decision in this State on when it is appropriate to dismiss proceedings before trial where a defendant is unable, due to ill-health, to defend a civil claim.
The court will consider whether such a person, who cannot instruct lawyers or give evidence on his own behalf, is entitled to have his case dismissed.
If so, should a court consider factors such as whether the nature of the claim would significantly damage the defendant’s reputation, whether there is no culpable delay on the part of the plaintiff, and to what extent there is evidence available to powers of attorney defending on behalf of an incapacitated defendant?
Mr Fingleton led Irish Nationwide between 1971 and 2009, holding the role of managing director for much of the period, though his title was changed to chief executive close to the end of his time in charge.
He denies the allegations against him.