Supreme Court to rule tomorrow on cervical cancer appeal case

Court’s decision in Ruth Morrissey case will impact on other cervical cancer cases

Ruth Morrissey outside the Four Courts last year. Photograph: Dave Meehan for the Irish Times

Ruth Morrissey outside the Four Courts last year. Photograph: Dave Meehan for the Irish Times


The Supreme Court will give judgment on Thursday on an appeal concerning the legal standard of care for cervical cancer screening.

The five-judge court’s decision in the case of Limerick woman Ruth Morrissey, who is terminally ill with cancer, will impact on other cervical cancer cases and the work of the Cervical Check tribunal.

When reserving judgment on the three-day appeal last December, the Chief Justice Frank Clarke said it was a “very difficult” case both because of its underlying and tragic conditions and the legal issues with very wide implications. He said the court hoped to give judgment in a way that “brings clarity” to this area.

In light of the coronavirus crisis, the judgment will be delivered by just one judge sitting in court and copies will be made available by email to the parties and the media. The judgment will also be published on later tomorrow.

The HSE and two Irish based laboratories – Quest Diagnostics Ireland Ltd and Medlab Pathology Ltd – have appealed a July 2019 judgment by the High Court’s Mr Justice Kevin Cross awarding €2.1m to Ms Morrissey and her husband Paul over misreading of Ms Morrissey’s cervical smear slides. The Government has guaranteed, irrespective of the outcome, the couple will retain the entire damages, some €2m of which is against the labs, plus their legal costs.

Ms Morrissey was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 and her case concerned smears taken under the CervicalCheck screening programme in 2009 and 2012. She was not told until May 2018 that a 2014 review showed two smears were reported incorrectly. The core issues in the appeal include what standard of care should apply in cytoscreening and whether the HSE has liability for acts and omissions of cytoscreeners.

The appellants’ particular concern is the High Court finding that screeners should have “absolute confidence” that a sample is adequate and there is no abnormality before reporting it as negative.