In court this term: TDs, bankers, and an entire Dáil committee

Several significant cases are listed to be heard, including two taken by businessman Denis O’Brien and a personal injuries action by the husband of Savita Halappanavar

 

A former government minister and an entire Dáil committee are among the names featuring in the Four Courts lists in the opening law term of 2016.

While the last week of the 2015 legal year ended with Fine Gael TD John Perry settling his action against the party over the running of its selection convention for Sligo-Leitrim, the first week of the 2016 law term sees former Fine Gael minister turned Independent TD Michael Lowry seeking orders to stop his prosecution on charges of allegedly filing incorrect tax returns in 2003 and 2007. Lowry insists he has no outstanding tax liability and is being treated unfairly when others, including some 145 holders of Ansbacher accounts, are not being prosecuted.

He also maintains that the successful bid by the Director of Public Prosecutions to have his trial transferred to Dublin Circuit Criminal Court amounts to unfair punishment for his popularity with voters in Tipperary. His High Court application opens on January 12th.

Just weeks later, on January 27th, Independent TD Mick Wallace faces an application in the Commercial Court for a €2 million summary judgment from the Promontoria (Aran) Ltd fund, which bought loans of his companies in 2014 from Ulster Bank. The €2 million is alleged to be due under a March 2009 guarantee and indemnity from the Wexford TD as a director of M&J Wallace Ltd.

Back in the High Court, the nine-member Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privileges continues to prepare its defence to the action brought against it by businessman Denis O’Brien for alleged breach of his right to privacy in his banking affairs.

O’Brien alleges that remarks made in the Dáil in summer 2015 by Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty effectively decided his legal action against RTÉ over the confidentiality of his banking relationship with State-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation. The businessman claims the remarks involved “unwarranted interference” by the Oireachtas with the courts. A dispute over discovery issues will be heard in February.

O’Brien’s separate case against Red Flag Consulting over an alleged conspiracy to damage him will also be back before the High Court this term.

Collins in Supreme Court appeal

Another politician, United Left TD Joan Collins, will be in the Supreme Court in February for her appeal against the High Court’s rejection of her challenge to the minister for finance’s decision, in 2010, to issue €31 billion promissory notes in favour of Anglo Irish Bank and the Educational Building Society. The three-judge High Court ruled in 2013 that the notes were validly issued. A core issue in the case is whether the concept of appropriation of public monies should be subject, as Collins argued, to a set limit.

One of the three judges who dismissed Collins’s case was Mr Justice Peter Kelly, who takes the helm as the new president of the High Court this month. Having established an international reputation for the fast-track Commercial Court as a model of efficiency, Mr Justice Kelly is expected to seek to do the same for the High Court.

Among the cases listed for hearing in those courts this term is the personal injuries action by Praveen Halappanavar over the death of his wife, Savita. *

Retired judge judgment

An unusual case expected to get a hearing date this term is by a recently retired High Court judge, 71-year-old Barry White, who wants to resume work as a barrister. He is challenging a Bar Council rule that prevents retired judges resuming private practise in a court equal to or less than the court of which they were a judge.

White, who had an extensive practise at the criminal Bar before being appointed a High Court judge in 2002, claims the rule breaches his constitutional right to earn a living. He had written to the Bar Council saying his wish to resume practise was due to “economic necessity”. The case, against the Bar Council and the State, will be heard by Mr Justice Max Barrett.

Across the yard from the main Four Courts building, the Court of Appeal continues to battle its way through the backlog of hundreds of appeals inherited in 2014 from the Supreme Court, in addition to a mounting number of fresh appeals from the High Court.

An important appeal specially fixed for hearing this term involves a challenge by the Motor Insurance Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) to a High Court ruling obliging it to assume €90 million in liabilities following the collapse of Setanta Insurance in April 2014. Setanta had been a member of the MIBI, and the High Court ruling has prompted concern that motorists will be hit with higher premiums as insurers pass on the increased cost of funding the MIBI’s work to their clients.

Another significant appeal is by the Department of Social Protection against a High Court decision quashing the refusal of a domiciliary care allowance for the mother of an autistic boy. Mr Justice Barrett upheld the boy’s challenge after finding an alleged “policy” in the department of always accepting its medical assessors’ “desktop” opinions on such applications.

While a Health Service Executive multidisciplinary team assessed the boy as needing considerably more care than is usually provided to children of his age, and advised the parents to apply for a domiciliary care allowance, the department’s medical assessor took the view that the evidence did not indicate a disability so severe as to require this extra care, the judge noted.

* This article was edited on January 11th, 2016