CervicalCheck tribunal receives its first claims

‘Small number’ of claims received, with others to be transferred from the High Court

The controversy over the screening programme was sparked by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan settling a High Court action in April 2018 over the reading of her smear test. Photograph: Collins

The controversy over the screening programme was sparked by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan settling a High Court action in April 2018 over the reading of her smear test. Photograph: Collins

 

The CervicalCheck Tribunal has received its first claims, with a number of other cases set to be transferred from the High Court.

The tribunal was established to allow an alternative to going to court for claims arising out of the CervicalCheck controversy.

In February it emerged that almost two months into its establishment, it had yet to receive a claim.

The Department of Health has confirmed a number of cases have now been lodged.

“The tribunal has indicated to Minister [for Health Stephen] Donnelly that a small number of claims have been received. The State Claims Agency has separately advised that it has issued consent for a number of additional claims to be transferred to the tribunal from the High Court.”

The timeline for assessing and concluding the claims at the tribunal will differ “depending on a number of factors”, the department said.

This includes whether they are new claims lodged with the tribunal or claims transferring from the High Court.

“In the tribunal, claims will progress to hearing within a considerably shorter timeframe than is available in respect of proceedings before the High Court – the rules of procedure and practice direction of the tribunal have been devised in such a way as to facilitate a rigorous case-management process leading to efficient progress and speedy determination of claims.”

The controversy over the screening programme was sparked by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan, who has cervical cancer, settling a High Court action in April 2018 over the reading of her smear test. It later emerged that more than 100 other women had not been informed of an audit that had revised their earlier, negative smear tests. Some are taking legal cases against the testing labs and the Health Service Executive.

Matter of urgency

Since many are seriously ill, there was an urgent need to establish the tribunal quickly.

In his report, which recommended the establishment of the tribunal, Justice Charles Meenan set out the urgency of setting up the alternative system he proposed for hearing claims arising from CervicalCheck.

“By establishing the tribunal, the Government has provided an alternative venue for the exclusive purpose of dealing with these claims promptly, and eligible women can, if they so choose, avail of this. Due to the volume of cases of all kinds pending before the courts, it may be several years before all CervicalCheck claims are scheduled for hearing in the High Court,” the Department of Health said in a statement.

Under the procedures for claims lodged with the court, “a new claim can be resolved before year end and claims on transfer from the High Court could be dealt with considerably faster”.

The final date on which a claim a woman can make a claim to the tribunal, or transfer a case from the High Court, is currently July 26th, 2021.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly decided to formally begin the work of the tribunal last December after talks with the 221 Plus support group stalled.

The group had been looking for assurances in relation to the statute of limitations and the ability of women to return to the tribunal should they suffer a recurrence of cancer.

Those talks collapsed as the group said they felt those issues were not fully addressed. The support group said it would advise its members that there was nothing available in the tribunal that was not available to the women in the High Court.