Ian Bailey's partner Jules Thomas has failed to prevent a pre-trial hearing which could result in large parts, and perhaps all, of her action for damages against the State being struck out.
The Court of Appeal today dismissed Ms Thomas’ appeal aimed at preventing the hearing of the State’s preliminary application to have much of her case struck out. A hearing date for that preliminary application will be fixed later.
Ms Thomas has separately applied to amend her case and, if she succeeds in doing so, that could nullify much of the State's preliminary application to have much of her existing case dismissed. A hearing date for the amendment application has also yet to be fixed.
Ms Thomas is suing the Garda Commissioner and State over alleged "incalculable" damage suffered by her arising from the Garda investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork in late 1996. Her case was brought on grounds including alleged wrongful arrest and false imprisonment on dates in 1997, 2000 and 2002.
Last October, High Court Judge John Hedigan granted a State application for a preliminary hearing of issues concerning whether most, if not all, of her claims should be struck out.
Towards the end of Mr Bailey’s 64 day action in March 2015, the defendants successfully made a similar application to Judge Hedigan to have large aspects of Mr Bailey’s case withdrawn from the jury. His remaining claims of conspiracy by some gardaí to frame him for murder were rejected by the jury.
In Ms Thomas’ case, the State argues many of her claims should be struck out due to being brought outside the six-year legal time limit and alleged excessive delay in bringing them.
Ms Thomas claims any delay is a result of psychiatric illness and damage suffered due to alleged actions of gardaí and the State and also argues a preliminary hearing is inappropriate due to alleged continuing conspiracy against her. She also relies on defences of alleged fraudulent concealment and lack of capacity as provided for under the Statute of Limitations.
The State argued issues of alleged fraudulent concealment and capacity were raised for the first time in August 2015 and there was no specific allegation of conspiracy in the statement of claim. If it won on the preliminary matters, that would dispose entirely of Ms Thomas’ case and remove the need for a long and costly jury trial, it argued.
Giving the three judge appeal court's decision, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said Judge Hedigan directed this preliminary hearing with the considerable benefit of having heard detailed evidence in Mr Bailey's action which, in many respects, involved similar evidence to Ms Thomas'.
Judge Hedigan had knowledge of a wide range of other relevant matters and was “particularly well placed” to assess the likely benefit of a trial of preliminary issues, he ruled. In such circumstances, an appeal court should accord due deference to the decision of a trial judge made in exercise of their discretion and this appeal would be dismissed.
Earlier, he noted the purpose of deciding preliminary issues was to save time and costs, in the interest of both parties and in the administration of justice generally. In this case, the issues were complex, covering many years and a full hearing of them would be lengthy and costly. The Statute of Limitations was also a crucial issue, “if not the crucial issue”, in this case.
While a trial of preliminary issues might become redundant if Ms Thomas is permitted to amend her case, no amendment order had been made to date, he noted. Should leave to amend be granted, the State could apply to abandon the preliminary issues trial.