State avoids 'wide-ranging fishing expedition' for adoption documents

Judge rejects application from woman who claims she was illegally adopted

A High Court judge has refused to grant a defendant in an action over an alleged illegal adoption discovery of documents the State said would have required it to conduct a "wide-ranging fishing expedition".

Mr Justice Senan Allen said the argument advanced by the third defendant, a representative of the Religious Sisters of Charity, which ran the St Patrick's Guild adoption service, failed to take into account the onus on the requesting party in establishing the relevance of the discovery sought.

The discovery motion against the State was brought in an action initiated by a woman who claims she was illegally adopted in the middle of the 20th century.

Her case is against St Patrick's Guild (in voluntary liquidation), four former representatives of the Religious Sisters, with an address at Gilford Road, Sandymount, Dublin 4, Ireland and the Attorney General.

In the hearing of the motion, the State had objected to what it labelled a “wide-ranging fishing expedition” for wider disclosure of documents relating to all alleged illegal adoptions carried out by St Patrick’s Guild over a 10-year period. This included documentation it held across multiple departments “touching on or concerning any alleged illegal registrations” and or adoption records of St Patrick’s Guild between 1946 and 1956.

It also objected to providing “all and/or any other” documentation falling outside these categories which “may nevertheless, to the knowledge of the State, be relevant to the issues” of the proceedings.

Counsel for the Religious Sisters representative argued that the records sought were necessary for pleading a “meaningful defence” and for indemnity and liability to be assessed.

St Patrick's Guild had handed over all of its records to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency in 2016. The representative, who is not being sued in a personal capacity, is now over the age of 100 and resides in a nursing home outside of this jurisdiction, the court heard.

Mr Justice Allen accepted the State’s submission that the case pleaded against the third defendant is focused on the circumstances of the registration of the birth of the plaintiff, whereas the case against the State is much broader.

He was content to make an order in the discovery motion, on consent from both the third defendant and the State, for discovery of documents in three requested categories which were limited in scope to the plaintiff’s birth, her alleged illegal adoption and other information passing between it and Tusla as set out in the statement of claim.

He was not satisfied that she had justified her request for wider discovery should be made at this stage of the proceedings. He said he could “see immediately” the litigation advantage the third defendant hopes to achieve by having sight of all of the State records before she declares her position as to the case made by the plaintiff against the Religious Sisters.

However, it does not follow that such an approach is “sensible” as far as the other parties are concerned, and it has delayed the progress of the plaintiff’s case. The judge said that the plaintiff’s entitlement to have her case heard with all expedition is at the “forefront” of his mind.

The plaintiff in the main action is seeking damages for, among other things, actionable conspiracy, deceit and intentional infringement of her constitutional rights. The woman also wants court declarations that the State and the Attorney General failed to vindicate her rights as a child, and an adult, to the society of her true family members.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter

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