High court reporters
Former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins intends to appeal to the Supreme Court against a "determinative" ruling dismissing her preliminary application for discovery of private Dáil Éireann documents, the High Court has heard.
Ms Kerins’s counsel, John Rogers SC, said his client cannot proceed with her 2014 claim for damages for misfeasance in public office without the various records being disclosed to her.
It was in many ways a "determinative" ruling in her case, and she intends to appeal it to the highest court, he said.
Last August, Mr Justice Alexander Owens refused Ms Kerins’s request for various documents of a Public Accounts Committee, which she appeared publicly before in February 2014 amid controversy about her €240,000 salary.
In her action against Dáil Éireann, the Attorney General and Ireland, she alleges the committee subjected her to a "witch hunt" style of questioning, which had such an impact on her that she became unwell and attempted to take her own life.
Her claims are denied and the committee, which her case was initially brought against, argued it was entitled to ask questions concerning State funding to Rehab, a private charitable entity in receipt of extensive public funding.
Mr Justice Owens ruled that the various records Ms Kerins sought, including all minutes of public and private meetings of the committee and certain legal advice, were “intimiately connected” with protected speech.
He said article 15.13 of the Constitution precluded him from entertaining the request because “the gravamen of her claim calls for judgment on speech and debate by members of Dáil Éireann”. It must follow, he said, that her claim for damages was “not maintainable”.
On Tuesday, the judge said the preliminary application brought about further clarity in relation to the laws governing freedom of speech in parliament and the separation of the court and legislature powers.
The application had raised issues of “general public importance” relating to important constitutional matters that were of “some novelty”, he said. For this reason, he awarded Ms Kerins a third of her legal costs of bringing the application. He placed a stay on this order in the event of an appeal.
If the Supreme Court agrees to hear Ms Kerins’s intended appeal over the discovery matter, it would be the second time it considers an issue in her case.
In 2019, it ruled on the first module of her action, finding the public accounts committee acted unlawfully as a whole by straying significantly outside its terms of reference and the terms of an invitation to her.
The Supreme Court’s declaration related to the committee’s actions, while it refrained from making any finding which trenched on protections in respect of the utterances of its members.
The second module of her case, concerning questions relating to any entitlement to damages, was returned to the High Court for first determination.