The court system is "fearfully expensive", "alien" and "truly accessible to increasingly few", a High Court Judge has said. The courts were a forum that should be engaged only as "a last resort", Mr Justice Max Barrett added.
He made the remarks when refusing a pre-trial bid by Guinness UDV Ireland to halt a case against it by a former worker. The case by Owen Traynor (72) is over alleged breach of assurances concerning his pension allegedly given to him when accepting voluntary redundancy in 2002 after 35 years of service.
Guinness UDV alleged that Mr Traynor’s delay in bringing proceedings breached its rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr Justice Barrett said it was “hardly surprising” Mr Traynor had delayed coming to court. “Almost a hundred years after the opening salvos that led to the creation of our present Republic, we have now an expensive court system that remains alien to many and truly accessible to increasingly few.”
While “international conglomerates” undoubtedly and properly enjoyed an abundance of legal rights, it seemed “odd, albeit not legally wrong”, that a human rights convention would be used in aid by a conglomerate against a “ man who just thinks he is not being paid the doubtless moderate pension that he believes himself to have been promised”, he said.
In his action, Mr Traynor alleges he was given verbal assurances in 2002 concerning a redundancy package before he accepted it.
Just weeks later, he received a letter from Guinness, identifying certain pension and other details, which deviated from the purported verbal assurances he was given, he claims.
The company denies the claims in a full defence.
Mr Justice Barrett noted Mr Traynor had engaged a solicitor and actuary from 2003, a statement of claim was served in 2007 and a notice of trial was served in 2012.
Guinness, he noted, alleged inexcusable and inordinate delay on the part of Mr Traynor amounted to breach of its rights under Article 6 of the ECHR.
Guinness had not been take by surprise in this case where Mr Traynor first engaged solicitors in 2003, the judge said. While Mr Traynor had engaged a solicitor and actuary, it was accepted he had been slow in coming to court but that was “hardly surprising”.
The judge said Mr Traynor was “clearly a fighting man” and had come to court despite the costs involved.
Heruled the delay was neither inordinate or inexcusable. The chronology of relevant dates showed this matter was “a while brewing”, the court could not ignore Guinness had contributed to the delay and the balance of justice favoured allowing Mr Traynor’s action to continue, he found.
Both sides, the judge also suggested, should consider resolving the matter by mediation rather than the “fearfully expensive forum” of the courts which should only be engaged as “a last resort.”