Rape victim not entitled to trial by jury, judge rules

 

THE HIGH Court has ruled that rape victim Lavinia Kerwick is not entitled to have a jury hear her combined libel, privacy and personal injury proceedings against the Sunday World.

The combined proceedings were due to be heard next week before a judge and jury.

Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne ruled yesterday that the abolition of juries in personal injuries cases meant Ms Kerwick was not entitled to have such combined proceedings heard before a jury.

The decision may be appealed to the Supreme Court, Ms Kerwick’s counsel Declan Doyle SC told the judge. Alternatively, he might seek to have all three aspects of her action heard by a High Court judge sitting alone if one was available next week. There was an urgency because of Ms Kerwick’s medical condition, Mr Doyle added.

The matter will be mentioned again before Ms Justice Dunne next Tuesday.

Ms Kerwick was raped in 1991 by William Conroy who received a nine-year suspended sentence.

In 2007, the Sunday Worldpublished an article which, Ms Kerwick alleges, defamed her, breached her privacy and inflicted emotional distress on her. She is seeking damages from Sunday Newspapers Ltd, trading as the Sunday World.

In a pre-trial application, the newspaper asked the court to direct that the combined proceedings might be heard by a judge only.

Eoin McCullough SC, for the Sunday World, said the abolition of juries in personal injuries actions in 1988 meant the privacy action and personal injuries actions could only be heard before a judge.

While libel actions could still be heard before juries, the court was entitled to use its discretion not to separate the different actions because the facts in all cases arose from the same set of circumstances, he said.

Michael O’Higgins SC, for Ms Kerwick, argued they were entitled to have separate but sequential trials in which evidence as to alleged damage to her reputation could be heard first before a jury.

A judge sitting alone would then hear evidence on the other aspects of the action, based on supplemental evidence to that already heard in the libel trial, he said.

Ms Justice Dunne ruled yesterday that the sequential approach was untenable. If that occurred, there would be a duplication of evidence, the case would take longer, costs would be greater and there could arguably be an overlap in respect of damages that might be awarded, she said. The personal injuries aspect was not subsidiary to the defamation claim.