Historic days for Irish supreme court

By Dr David Cowan

05 March 2019 at 11:00 BST

GLP is on the ground in Galway to mark historic three-day visit by Irish supreme court in trend of supreme courts getting closer to the people, while UK supreme court to head to Wales.

The Aula Maxima, NUI Galway Shutterstock

The Irish supreme court has launched first ever annual report in Galway, where it is sitting for the first time and involves three cases. Meanwhile, the UK supreme court is to head to Wales in the summer. While both supreme courts have visited other locations, the Irish court is sitting in the Aula Maxima, NUI Galway, the first time outside of a courthouse in its history. GLP is on the ground to cover the Galway visit.

Appeal dismissed

Today was the turn of O'Brien v Clerk of Dail Eireann & ors, a separation of powers case involving a businessman, Denis O'Brien. He appealed the High Court finding that the courts had no power to intervene on issues raised by him about how the Dail's Committee on Procedure and Privilege (CPP) dealt with statements made by members of the Dail and his subsequent complaints. Today, the court dismissed his appeal over the statements, which were made in the Dail about his banking affairs, finding his challenge amounted to an indirect and collateral attack on utterances made in the Dail which was impermissible under the Irish Constitution. Mr O'Brien also appealed the High Court's ruling that the case was not novel enough to depart from the usual rule that the losing party pays the costs. The question of costs will be dealt with by the court in two weeks time.

Apple data centre

Yesterday, Promontoria (Oyster) Designated Activity Company v Hannon marked the first time for the court to sit in Connacht province, and the first time sitting outside a courthouse since 1932 when the court moved into the Four Courts after independence. It is the third time outside Dublin, following successful sessions in Cork and Limerick, and forms part of an effort to increase transparency about its work, and understanding of its role. Tomorrow is the turn of Fitzpatrick & anor v An Bord Pleanala & ors, in which the court will hear an appeal over whether An Bord Pleanala breached its legal obligations in the way it approved the first phase of Apple’s planned €850m data centre in Athenry, near Galway. Apple has since scrapped its plans for the project, but the court’s decision could have Europe-wide implications for similar developments in the future.

Catching up on the backlog

Before hearing appeals, the court published its first ever annual report, outlining the work of the court and the clearing of a backlog of cases. The court reported there was a 10 per cent increase in applications for leave to appeal filed in the supreme court office in 2018 compared to 2017. The court delivered 91 judgments last year, determined 157 applications for leave to appeal and disposed of 128 appeals. It shows that it now takes around a year for an appeal to be heard in the Supreme Court and two for a hearing in the Court of Appeal, down from a previous waiting time of five years. In his foreword to the report, chief justice Mr justice Frank Clarke, says it is hoped the work of the court inside and outside the courtroom and in Ireland and abroad can be highlighted. The televising of some judgments of the court over the past year is also part of the efforts to bring greater access to its work. The chief justice says Brexit will present unique challenges and opportunities in 2019. He points to the court’s membership of ten European and international networks and says he is confident those challenges can be met head on. The report can be found here.

UK Supreme Court

Hitting the same trend is the UK Supreme Court, which has announced it will sit in Cardiff for the first time this summer. The court will sit in the Ty Hywel building in the National Assembly for hearings from 22 to 25 July, whilst the assembly is in recess. Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, will be joined by deputy president Lord Reed, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Sales and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. The court sat in Scotland in 2017 and Northern Ireland in 2018, hearing cases that were specifically relevant to those nations. The caseload includes a case significant for the legal profession, Edwards on behalf of the Estate of the late Arthur Watkins (Respondent) v Hugh James Ford Simey Solicitors. Justices will decide to what extent a court should admit evidence obtained after the date the original solicitors’ negligence claim settled, and in what circumstances is the principle of full compensation engaged. As usual, the cases will also be live-streamed so others can still watch too.'


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