Friday 21 July 2017

Angela Kerins seeking to avoid paying PAC legal bill for failed High Court challenge

Angela Kerins
Angela Kerins
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins is seeking to avoid having to pay all of the legal costs arising from her failed High Court action against the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Normally losing parties would have to bear all of the costs, expected in this case to be at least €500,000 after ten days of hearings last year.

The State, the Attorney General and the committee have sought to recover their legal costs from the ex-Rehab chief, who stepped down from her €240,000-a-year job three years ago.

However, her counsel, John Rogers SC, today argued she should be able to recover her costs from the PAC as it had acted outside its jurisdiction in its dealings with her.

He also told the High Court there should be no order for costs in favour of the State and the Attorney General.

Ms Kerins (58) unsuccessfully sued for damages and sought declarations that the PAC’s activities were unlawful and tainted by bias following two hearings of the committee in 2014.

She alleged bullying by certain committee members, claiming they pursued a “vendetta” and “a witch-hunt” against her, forcing her to attempt suicide.

Although the court found Ms Kerins’ personal and professional reputation had been damaged at those hearings, it ruled that it could not interfere with free speech in parliament, which is protected by Article 15.13 of the Constitution.

Addressing a three-judge divisional court of the High Court, Mr Rogers today argued the case was unique and costs should not be apportioned in the normal way.

“There were issues of constitutional importance related to the right of a citizen appearing before an Oireachtas committee to vindicate her good name when it was damaged by a committee acting outside its jurisdiction,” said Mr Rogers.

He said Ms Kerins took the case where there was no established precedent which determined the extent of the immunities enjoyed by Oireachtas committees.

Mr Rogers acknowledged it was ordinarily the case that a losing applicant bears the costs.

But he cited a number of cases where this did not occur.

Mr Rogers said his client had “engaged with the institutions of parliament” with the purpose of assisting those institutions.

He said she had “no notice” of questions that were put to her.

The barrister also said the court had found that remarks made at the PAC were damaging to her personally and professionally.

“She was a voluntary and purposeful participant in the procedures of the PAC who ended up having her name sullied by an institution of parliament,” he said.

Counsel said a second hearing, which she did not attend, also involved matters “which by any standard were extremely damaging to her”.

Mr Rogers said the PAC had later been told by the Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privilege that it had acted without jurisdiction.

He argued that in such circumstances, her case had been “not unreasonable or unstateable”.

The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, said the court would give its decision on costs at a later date.

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