High Court halts action by woman alleging Gibney assault 20 years ago

 

THE HIGH Court has halted an action by a woman against two sports bodies arising from her claims she was sexually abused by swimming coach George Gibney 20 years ago.

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the 13-year delay by the now 39- year-old woman in prosecuting her case was inordinate and inexcusable.

Gibney, a former national and Olympic coach, won a High Court order in 1994 stopping, on grounds of delay, a prosecution against him for allegedly abusing swimmers between 1966 and 1982.

In the woman’s case, she alleged she had been sexually assaulted by Gibney in 1991 while on a training camp with her swimming club in Orlando, Florida.

She brought proceedings in 1997 against Gibney, the Irish Amateur Swimming Association Ltd and Olympic Council of Ireland. In the case, she alleged the sports bodies were negligent in their supervision of Gibney and of the training camp.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Hogan said, for reasons “hard to fathom”, nothing happened in relation to the woman’s proceedings for 11 years.

In July 2009, another High Court judge, Mr Justice Michael Peart, granted the woman permission to renew the papers in the case for another six months, he noted.

The swimming association then applied to have the woman’s case struck out on grounds of delay while the Olympic Council sought an order setting aside Mr Justice Peart’s decision.

Mr Justice Hogan found in favour of the swimming association and the Olympic Council. It was plain the prejudice which the Irish Amateur Swimming Association would suffer due to the gross and unexplained delay significantly outweighed that which would be visited upon the woman, he said.

In relation to the Olympic Council application, the judge said no steps were taken by the woman during an 11-year period to pursue her case. While he could accept there may have been difficulties serving proceedings on Gibney, who appeared to live in the US, none of this could “excuse the pall of inactivity which appears to have descended on this case from a relatively early stage”.

Article 34.1 of the Constitution provided there should be speedy and efficient dispatch of civil litigation and this constitutional imperative meant the courts had a jurisdiction, and in certain cases a duty, to vindicate a litigant’s right to a hearing within a reasonable time.

Against that background, Mr Justice Hogan added, it was almost impossible to envisage circumstances in which the courts “could or should be prepared to resurrect this litigation” after such a remarkable lapse of time, not least because nothing at all happened in the interval between November 1998 and July 2009.