Adult children cannot attend full hearing of woman’s claim against father’s estate, court rule

Woman says she had an ‘intimate and committed’ relationship with man

The man’s children may give evidence if called upon to do so, the court heard. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

The man’s children may give evidence if called upon to do so, the court heard. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

 

Four adult children who dispute a woman’s claim she had an “intimate and committed” relationship with their deceased father such as entitled her to claim against his estate as a co-habitee cannot attend the full private hearing of her claim, the High Court has ruled.

However, the children may give evidence to the hearing if called upon to do so, the court noted.

In the first application of its type here, the personal representative of the man’s estate sought to have the children attend the entire in camera hearing, including to hear the woman give her evidence, so as to assist the representative in contesting the woman’s claim.

In a judgment published this week, Mr Justice Michael Twomey dismissed the application, brought in the context of proceedings by the woman, referred to as Ms D, under section 194 of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010.

The children claimed they should be allowed to attend the entire hearing of Ms D’s claim despite what the judge described as the “clear and unambiguous” provision in the Act that such a claim “shall be heard otherwise than in public”.

He noted the sides accepted the children may be called to give evidence at the hearing, since they did not accept the truthfulness of the woman’s assertions she had an intimate relationship with their father.

The core issue was whether the children should be permitted to attend the full hearing, including that part where Ms D will give her evidence, he said.

It is clear the children, as beneficiaries of their father’s estate, will benefit financially if the woman’s claim is defeated, and it was argued it was in the interests of justice to allow them to attend the hearing, the judge said.

The personal representative of the estate, referred to as Mr B, claimed the children were best placed to challenge Ms D’s evidence and should be permitted hear her evidence.

While the children had raised plausible reasons why persons in their situation might be entitled to attend the hearing, there are also good policy reasons why such hearings are held in camera, the judge said. The in camera provision was to protect the privacy of the parties involved and the Oireachtas has set down “very limited” exceptions to the in camera rule.

It is not the role of an unelected judge to seek to expand those exceptions, he held.

He had some sympathy for any adult children who believe a deceased parent is being wrongfully subjected to a claim of co-habitation by another person, along with a claim for financial provision out of the parents’ estate (at their expense), but where those children are being prevented from attending the hearing of that claim to help defend what they regard as their parent’s honour as well as their finances, he said.

He did not believe the law, as it currently stands and is interpreted, allows for an exception to be made for the children to attend the full hearing.

Nor did he believe it would be an appropriate exercise of the court’s powers to seek to expand the category of exceptions to the in camera rule to include adult children who dispute a cohabitation claim against their parents estate. If any such expansion is to be made, that is a matter for the Oireachtas, he said

The judge also held there was no prejudice to Mr B in not making the order sought. Mr B is a solicitor who himself was personally acquainted with the deceased and will also have the benefit of legal representation at the hearing, he noted.