A High Court judge has ruled that the examination by ex-Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chief executive John Delaney of files seized by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement as part of its criminal investigation into certain matters at the FAI must be completed by mid-January.
The inspection arises out of 280,000 documents, covering a period of 17 years, seized by the ODCE from the FAI’s offices last February as part of its investigation into Irish soccer’s governing body.
The court has been asked by the ODCE, in an application where the FAI is the respondent, to determine if some of those files are covered by legal professional privilege and cannot be used by the corporate watchdog as part of its investigation.
Through his lawyers, Mr Delaney was allowed inspect the files, including thousands of emails, to see which are private to him or are covered by legal professional privilege (LPP), and cannot be used by the ODCE as part of if its investigation.
The matter first came before the courts last February. While a timetable for the completion of the inspection was agreed, lawyers for UK-based Mr Delaney sought extra time to complete the inspection.
The extension was needed due to the large volume of material, it was argued. In a series of motions before the court Mr Delaney, represented by Paul McGarry SC. sought more time in order to complete the inspection. This would be aided by the ODCE allowing Mr Delaney’s lawyers to apply additional search terms to help identify more files so they can be inspected.
Counsel also asked the court to extend the completion date to sometime in mid-January 2021. Counsel said a lot of work had already been done by his side, and the 3000 files previously ‘tagged’ by Mr Delaney’s lawyers as being covered by LPP had been reduced.
Counsel said, if Mr Delaney was not able to inspect all of the files before any designated completion date set by the court, he would have claim LPP on all of the outstanding material. That could lead to more work for those involved in the entire process, counsel said, adding his client was not dragging his feet or trying to delay the process.
The applications were opposed by the ODCE, represented by Kerida Naidoo SC, who said Mr Delaney’s application for additional time was “unwarranted and unnecessary.” Any extra time would cause more delay to the investigation process, counsel added.
The ODCE wanted the court to fix a date in December for the completion of the extension. Counsel said Mr Delaney had initially sought a December completion date when the matter was previously before the court.
In her ruling Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds said she was not prepared to make an order allowing Mr Delaney to apply additional search terms to the file inspection process. The Judge said the material seized had, using sophisticated software, had already been inspected by using several search terms provided by Mr Delaney’s lawyers.
Referring to concerns raised by Mr Delaney regarding issues including his privacy, she was satisfied safeguards within the relevant legislation would protect his rights. The judge added the inspection process should be completed by January 11th next. She confirmed the appointment of barrister Niall Nolan Bl as the independent person who would examine the review materials over which claims of legal privilege are made.
The judge said Mr Nolan will prepare a report for the court which will aid the judge in determining which of the material is privileged and which is not.