PAC appeal over discovery of documents to Angela Kerins allowed

Court says it must be established if Dáil body had right to question ex-Rehab chief’s pay

Former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins arriving at Leinster House for a Public Accounts Committee meeting in February 2014. She claims the actions of the committee caused her distress and injury to her health. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

Former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins arriving at Leinster House for a Public Accounts Committee meeting in February 2014. She claims the actions of the committee caused her distress and injury to her health. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

 

The Court of Appeal has said it would be premature at this stage to make orders of discovery on documents in a case involving former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins and the Public Accounts Committee.

Ms Kerins alleges the committee engaged in a “witchhunt” against her, which ultimately caused her distress and injury to her health, when questioning issues such as her salary.

The court said the first issue to be decided in the case was the extent of the committee’s jurisdiction and powers to question her. In those circumstances, it was premature at this stage to make orders concerning exactly what documents must be discovered for the case.

On that basis, the court allowed the committee’s appeal against High Court orders directing it to discover certain documents, at this stage, for the proceedings. Those documents include minutes of meetings of the committee, whether public or private, relating to its decision to examine payments to Rehab and to question Ms Kerins.

None of the documents at issue are relevant to the jursidctional point and discovery issues can be dealt with after the High Court rules whether the committee had jurisdiction and powers to conduct the disputed hearings concerning Ms Kerins and Rehab in the manner it did, Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said in the court’s judgment. Mr Justice Sean Ryan and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan agreed.

Acted unlawfully

Ms Kerins alleges the committee did not have powers to conduct the hearings as it had and acted unlawfully. She alleges there was no jursdiction to inquire into payments made by the Rehab group and, in particular, to examine her about her salary and about payments made to her.

She also claims, if the committee did have jurisdiction to inquire into payments by the Rehab group, then the manner in which it conducted its examination of her on February 27th 2014 exceeded such jurisdiction.

The committee disputes those claims.

Ms Kerins had cross-appealed against the High Court’s refusal to order discovery of other categories of documents prior to the hearing on jurisdcitional issues but the Court of Appeal said the High Court was correct in refusing to order discovery of those particular documents until after the jurisdictional issues were decided.

In her judicial review proceedings, Ms Kerins is claiming orders and damages on foot of claims the committee conducted itself unlawfully, showed bias towards her, acted outside its remit, and was guilty of misfeasance in public office. She claims its actions caused her distress and injury to her health.

State income

The committee denies her claims and maintains it was entitled to question Ms Kerins in circumstances where 81 per cent of the charity’s income in Ireland was provided by the State.

The committee has argued it has a “vital role” in overseeing public expenditure and cannot be sued for damages over matters said under privilege. It also indicated it does not intend to issue any report involving any findings concerning an individual.

Ms Kerins appeared for seven hours before the Committee on February 27th, 2014.  Her lawyers said she could not attend a resumed hearing on April 10th, 2014 due to ill health.

Another Dáil Committee, the Committee on Procedures and Privileges, which sets the rules for the House, later ruled the committee could not compel Ms Kerins to attend before it.