Judge struggles to ‘put some order’ on sprawling INM case
Sea of black gowns fills High Court as interested parties seek access to case papers
Mr Justice Peter Kelly worried aloud that bespoke redactions could make the case so difficult to follow that it could become akin to a “Chinese opera”. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
If the public finds it difficult to follow the Byzantine legal case that has enmeshed Independent News & Media (INM) in recent weeks, try being the judge.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly, president of the High Court, appeared to almost reach the end of his tether with the whole thing yesterday afternoon, as a slew of interested parties addressed him seeking access to the court papers.
“We have to put some order on this,” sighed the judge. “We can’t have people popping up all over the place.”
A bewildering array of lawyers stood before him representing various people seeking the grounding affidavit of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. The ODCE wants High Court inspectors appointed to INM over allegations of poor corporate governance and a major data breach.
At one stage, 18 barristers were in court, a sea of black gowns and white collars facing up at the judge. Another dozen solicitors jotted down notes.
Others to address the court included Tom Mallon, barrister for former INM chief executive Robert Pitt, who sparked the investigation by complaining to the ODCE about the alleged conduct of INM’s former chairman Leslie Buckley, after becoming dissatisfied with how his complaints were handled internally.
Mallon, said his client was especially interested in obtaining the submission of former INM director Jerome Kennedy, to whom Pitt had originally complained in 2016.
“We are keen to know what he is saying,” said Mallon.
ODCE’s barrister, Neil Steen, said the corporate watchdog generally has no objection to releasing the papers. INM’s barrister, Shane Murphy, agreed, subject to INM’s solicitors redacting material that was either legally privileged or irrelevant to each of the parties concerned.
Donagher had asked McAleese to tell the judge that he was in court and wanted the papers, but he had no lawyer there to represent him
Mr Justice Kelly worried aloud that these bespoke redactions could make the case so difficult to follow that it could become akin to a “Chinese opera”.
He also worried that some information that had already been publicly aired could end up being excised.
“You can’t unring a rung bell,” said the judge.
At one stage, the judge adjourned the case for 20 minutes to allow the various parties to consult. When we returned, Smyth’s lawyer, Simon McAleese, told the judge that he had just bumped into former INM company secretary Andrew Donagher, whose data was also allegedly breached.
Donagher had asked McAleese to tell the judge that he was in court and wanted the papers, but he had no lawyer there to represent him. Mr Justice Kelly beckoned Donagher forward, and dealt with him gently. The former INM executive, dressed casually in jeans and a jumper, quietly confirmed he also wanted the papers.
Mr Justice Kelly also addressed McAlesse, reminding him that he, too, was also named in the affidavit: “I assume you will want the papers too?”
A lawyer for The Irish Times then addressed the court.
“What is The Irish Times doing here?” queried the judge.
The paper said it, too, wanted the papers. The judge said he would deal with the request at a later date if the newspaper decided to make a formal submission.
During a lunch break, INM’s lawyers gathered in the pub in the bowels of the Four Courts complex that was once known – aptly in this case – as “the Pitts”. They carried with them the boxes of evidence being sought by the various interested parties.
Once proceedings finished – the case is back before the court on May 9th – a senior solicitor for INM, from McCann Fitzgerald, wheezed as he helped to haul the boxes of evidence out of the court.
“In my day,” he said, “we would have gotten a junior clerk to do this.”
A lawyer’s work is never done. . .