Lawlor's widow wins fight to keep her home
THE widow of the late Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor will not have to sell her family home to pay more than €430,000 owed by her husband to the Mahon Tribunal.
Hazel Lawlor, whose husband was imprisoned three times for failing to co-operate with the tribunal, yesterday won her Supreme Court battle to prevent the payments-to-politicians inquiry from pursuing the estate of her late husband, including Somerton House, their family home.
Mr Lawlor, who died in a car crash in Moscow in October 2005, was involved in several modules of the Mahon Tribunal arising from claims by Frank Dunlop, Tom Gilmartin and others that he had assisted in the rezoning of lands at Carrickmines, Co Dublin, and was a key strategist in the Arlington/Quarryvale projects.
In 2002 and 2004, the Mahon Tribunal obtained judgment mortgages against lands in Lucan, owned by Mr and Mrs Lawlor, to compel Mr Lawlor to pay its legal costs.
A judgment mortgage is granted to a creditor in order to sell the property and clear the debt. But Mrs Lawlor brought an action against the tribunal seeking an order that, because the joint tenancy had not been severed on her husband's death, she became the sole owner of the lands by right of survivorship and free from judgment mortgages.
In July 2008, the High Court ruled the couple's joint ownership, or joint tenancy, had not been severed on the death of Mr Lawlor.
After High Court judge Ms Justice Mary Laffoy ruled in Mrs Lawlor's favour, the Mahon Tribunal appealed to the Supreme Court.
And yesterday the Supreme Court upheld that ruling preventing the tribunal from pursuing Liam Lawlor's estate for legal costs.
A unanimous three-judge Supreme Court dismissed the appeal saying it was to be regretted that the recent Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009, which made significant changes to the law in this area, had not been of more assistance.
The judgment was delivered by Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan with whom Ms Justice Susan Denham and Mr Justice Donal O'Donnell agreed.
Mr Justice Finnegan said it would be of assistance to those that were called upon to advise judgment creditors and judgment debtors, and the courts themselves, if the 2009 Act gave guidance as to the basis upon which the courts will exercise a discretion provided under the new law.
It was "to be regretted" that the opportunity, presented by the 2009 Act, of clarifying fully the reliefs and remedies available to a judgment creditor was "not availed of by the legislature", the judge added.
That clarification would be of the benefit to both a judgment creditor and debtor, he said.