McFeely succeeds in Priory Hall contempt appeal


DUBLIN DEVELOPER Thomas McFeely has won his Supreme Court appeal against orders fining him €1 million and jailing him for contempt of court related to fire safety works at the Priory Hall apartments in Dublin.

The five-judge Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday morning there was no factual basis for the High Court finding that Mr McFeely breached his undertakings related to those fire safety works given the fact he could not carry out those works due to having been earlier ordered off the Priory Hall site.

“There was no factual foundation upon which to make a finding of contempt of court or breach of an undertaking,” Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham said.

Mr McFeely had appealed against an order made on November 4th last by the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, jailing him for three months and fining him €1 million. The judge made those orders after finding that Mr McFeely had breached an undertaking concerning carrying out fire safety works at Priory Hall.

Residents of the apartments have been evacuated by order of the court until specified remedial works are completed.

In his appeal, Mr McFeely argued that he had deployed all resources at his disposal to comply with the undertakings given.

When he was ordered off the site by the court on November 4th, on the application of Dublin City Council, he could not comply with the undertakings, it was argued. The council opposed his appeal.

In her judgment, the Chief Justice stressed the appeal was about contempt of court and did not relate to providing a remedy for “the deeply concerning situation” for the residents and owners of Priory Hall.

In his judgment, Mr Justice John Murray suggested there should be more effective enforcement of fire safety standards by builders before they were allowed to sell on properties.

The law under which proceedings against Mr McFeely were brought, section 23 the Fire Services Act 1981, “does not seem to encompass much in the way of assistance or remedies for the blameless owners and users” of premises like Priory Hall, he said.

Mr Justice Nial Fennelly said contempt of court was an indispensable procedure in terms of maintaining respect of justice and the rule of law. In this case, there was “a serious departure from the observance of fair procedures”.

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman was critical of the council for not appearing before the Supreme Court on the day Mr McFeely was committed to prison. The council, despite being notified of the intention of Mr McFeely’s lawyers to bring an appeal before the Supreme Court, had indicated it did not intend to appear or be represented before the Supreme Court, he noted.

Anyone who procured the imprisonment of a citizen “owes a duty to the courts to attend and give assistance” before any court could deal properly with the question of whether that person could continue to be deprived of their liberty, he said.

Mr Justice Liam McKechnie agreed with his colleagues.