State Claims Agency handling 117 CervicalCheck legal actions

TDs told seven cases over screening controversy had been settled as of June 27th

Ciaran Breen, director of the State Claims Agency. File photograph: Colm Mahady/Fennells.

Ciaran Breen, director of the State Claims Agency. File photograph: Colm Mahady/Fennells.

 

The State Claims Agency has said it is handling 117 legal claims in relation to the CervicalCheck screening controversy.

Ciaran Breen, director of the agency, said as of June 27th seven claims had been settled, one of which is finalised meaning “all costs have been agreed and paid” and there are three further potential claims.

Mr Breen told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday there were three cases listed for hearing in the High Court in October and mediation in one of these was to take place later this month.

Mr Breen said the agency did not know when the appeal into the High Court judgement involving Ruth Morrissey, who is terminally ill with cervical cancer, would be heard.

“We’re very much in the hands of the Supreme Court, ” he said.

The agency lodged papers in the Supreme Court appealing the case in relation to the HSE’s primary and vicarious liability as well as Mr Justice Kevin Cross’s finding that a screener must have “absolute confidence” before giving a test the all-clear.

The committee heard the agency is currently managing 10,658 outstanding legal claims at a potential cost of €3.15 billion. This includes 3,196 clinical negligence claims, with an estimated liability of €2.3 billion.

Mr Breen said the agency’s total transactional expenditure rose from €303million in 2017 to €347million last year.

“One of the reasons that’s climbed the way it has is due to things like claims inflation...and we’re in fact settling and resolving more claims as well,” he said.

Mr Breen said there were 568 cases negotiated and settled last year. He said the amount claimed was €90.6 million but the cost of claims agreed was €53.7 million.

‘Out of touch’

Independent TD Catherine Connolly asked how the estimates could be “so out of touch”. Mr Breen said the agency’s legal cost accountants examine the bill of costs presented by solicitors and make reductions.

“It’s a question you would really have to put to someone like the Law Society or the lawyers because they’re the people who are responsible for putting in those bills,” he said.

Mr Breen said legal costs were always “problematic” but that in recent years a point of concern has been payment for two senior counsels in High Court cases instead of one.

“There had been an agreement with the Bar Council going back a number of years ago, way back, that there would be payment for only one senior counsel in any action in the High Court. We’re finding now that there’s great divergence from that and that in fact we’re being asked at taxation and even in court that we pay for two seniors in these cases,” he said.

“So the difficulty we’re having is that is increasing legal costs and will continue and it’s a big challenge for us.”

Mr Breen said the issue had been raised at the Cost of Insurance Working Group and in correspondence with the Department of Justice.