Supreme Court dismisses Bula plea for rehearing


The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed an application for the rehearing of a case arising out of the failure to bring the Bula lead and zine mine in Co Meath into production. Legal proceedings relating to Bula have been going on for some 14 years and yesterday's decision may be the final determination of the matter.

The legal proceedings began in 1986 and were eventually the subject of a 277-day High Court action. In his reserved judgment on that action in February 1997, Mr Justice Lynch dismissed the claims of Bula against Tara Mines Ltd, the Minister for Energy and several other defendants. The Supreme Court upheld that High Court decision in January 1999.

Bula Ltd (in receivership), Bula Holdings, and Bula directors Mr Richard Wood and Mr Michael Wymes then issued a motion alleging objective bias on the part of two of the Supreme Court judges who heard the Bula appeal - the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Keane, and Mr Justice Barrington (now retired).

The motion was heard by a three-judge Supreme Court last June and, in reserved judgments yesterday, the court unanimously dismissed the application and rejected the allegations of objective bias.

At the outset of yesterday's hearing, Mr Justice Morris said he had read the judgments of Ms Justice Denham and Ms Justice McGuinness dismissing the appeal and agreed with these. The court adjourned the matter for mention on Thursday when the defendants are likely to seek costs.

In her judgment, Ms Justice Denham said it was alleged a reasonable person would have a reasonable apprehension of bias on the parts of Mr Justice Keane and Mr Justice Barrington because of alleged links on the parts of both men to the case. She noted the Bula side had not objected to either judge hearing its appeal when the matter was actually before the court.

She said the alleged reasonable apprehension of bias was founded on 17 alleged links. She had analysed all of those alleged links and found the only links both judges had with the respondents in the Bula matter was that they gave professional services in the ordinary professional way more than 20 years ago when they were practising senior counsel. In the tradition of the Bar, Mr Barrington SC, had acted for the Minister for Energy against Tara Mines, acted for Tara Mines and acted for local residents against Tara, at different times over 20 years ago. The advice and advocacy given were not in relation to the issues raised in the Supreme Court appeal.

She noted the only link between the respondents and Mr Justice Keane was a single piece of legal advice given by the then Mr Keane SC, in 1976 and this was on a matter which was not an issue in the appeal. Mr Keane had also agreed that year to act for Tara on a forthcoming oral planning appeal but he became a judge before that appeal was heard and did not act for Tara.

None of the 17 alleged links raised a ground for a reasonable apprehension of bias. Many were repetitive and misunderstood the relationship of counsel to client and there was no appearance of a cogent and rational connection between the judges and parties, she said. "Seventeen noughts are still nothing."

Following a lengthy analysis of the alleged links between the two judges and some of the respondents, Ms Justice McGuinness said it did not appear to her there was any sufficient basis for a reasonable and realistic apprehension of bias. She noted it was accepted by all parties that the fact a judge had, while a barrister, acted for a particular party was not sufficient to disqualify that judge from hearing a case in which that party was involved. None of the advices given was in relation to the issues in the Bula appeal.