Legal costs in Morrissey case to be near double €2.1m award

Judge criticises ‘hysterical’ commentary on ruling in media

The negligence case involving Ruth Morrissey, who is terminally ill with cervical cancer, could lead to legal costs of up to €4 million, almost twice the €2.1 million award made to her and her husband Paul last week.

In the High Court yesterday, one of the laboratories involved, US company Quest Diagnostics, said it wanted to appeal the decision.

Sources later indicated that the Health Service Executive is also to make an appeal. The third defendant in the case, Medlab, which is part of the Australian multinational Sonic Healthcare, is also considering appealing.

Mr Justice Kevin Cross, in welcoming an appeal to the Supreme Court, strongly criticised some of the commentary on his ruling in the media over the past week. Some of it was "hysterical", he said.


Medical practitioners have expressed fears that essential screening services that save hundreds of lives every year could “grind to a halt” because of what they say is a new standard for screening decisions set by Mr Justice Cross.

Mr Justice Cross appeared to find this suggestion exasperating, saying “I decided absolutely nothing new” and expressing the wish that people would read his judgment before commenting on it.

Complex legal matters

In seeking a ruling for costs in their favour, Jeremy Maher SC, for the Morrisseys, said the case had involved complex legal matters to do with cytology, screening, causation, negligence and two unsuccessful attempts at mediation.

However, Mr Justice Cross said that an order for costs would have to await the outcome of the appeal in the Supreme Court.

While Quest had suggested that, in the meantime, Ms Morrissey be given €400,000 of the total award made last week, the judge said he did not think this was at all sufficient and decided on a figure of €710,000.

Speaking outside the court after the hearing, Cian O’Carroll, solicitor for Ms Morrissey, said a determination by the Supreme Court would at least quell “unhelpful threats”.

"Only today a threat was made to the very existence of screening in Ireland. All that happened in this case is that law that has been established for some 20 years was restated and clarified in the way it applies to an element of one screening programme."

He was referring to an English judgment from 1999 which was adopted by Mr Justice Cross. However, counsel for Quest said at the hearing that it had a difficulty with how the judge had incorporated the English ruling.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent