independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

The life and death issues that dominated year in the courts

Remembering Savita, Large number turned up at Eyre Square, Galway at the solemn and silent candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway.
Picture: Hany Marzouk
Remembering Savita, Large number turned up at Eyre Square, Galway at the solemn and silent candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway.

There were few winners in 2013 in the helter-skelter world of legal affairs.

It was the year that finally saw the introduction of laws to help debtors navigate personal insolvency and brought with it the promise of a referendum on same-sex marriage.

The trials and tribulations of Ireland's former business high fliers, including Sean Quinn and Sean Dunne, continued to dominate the debt headlines for much of the year.

And 2013 saw the introduction of new laws, which will come into force next week, giving effect to the Supreme Court's decision in the X case.

As the year draws to a close, we reflect on the highs and lows of a blockbuster legal year.

 

SEAN QUINN

The new year dawned with the release from prison of former billionaire businessman Sean Quinn whose dizzying array of lawsuits with the former Anglo Irish Bank had dominated much of 2012.

Quinn, a bankrupt, was released on January 3 from Mountjoy prison after completing a nine-week sentence for contempt of court for breaking court orders preventing the Quinn family from moving their assets beyond the reach of IBRC (formerly Anglo).

A warrant remains in place for his nephew Peter Darragh Quinn who was also sentenced to three months in prison. The Quinns spent much of their year in the High Court fighting a variety of battles with IBRC.

 

THE ABORTION HEARINGS

The tragic October 2012 death of Indian dentist Savita Halapannavar, left, was the catalyst for reform of Ireland's abortion laws.

Almost 30 years after the protracted 1983 right-to-life amendment, the Oireachtas joint committee on health and children held three days of public hearings ahead of new legislation to give effect to the 1992 Supreme Court decision in the X case.

One of the key moments was delivered by Dr Rhona Mahoney, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, who told the Committee: "I want to know that I will not go to jail and I want to know that she (the woman being treated) will not go to jail."

 

SURROGACY

The first of two landmark surrogacy actions opened before the family division of the High Court.

Issues never considered before by the Irish courts -- despite advances in IVF technology -- were raised in the action to have the name of the genetic mother of twin girls born to a surrogate (their aunt) put on their birth certificates.

The genetic mother won the High Court leg, but the case was appealed by the State and will be heard shortly by the Supreme Court.

A second mum whose child was born to a surrogate has claimed a refusal of maternity benefit to her is discriminatory.

 

ADRIAN DONOHOE

Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, pictured, was shot dead on January 25 by cross-border criminals who were staging the robbery of a credit union at Lordship, outside Dundalk.

His colleagues continue to try build a case against the chief suspects but so far there have been no prosecutions.

Garda Donohoe's murder was one of 51 murders in Ireland in 2013.

 

SENTENCING

Rape victim Fiona Doyle won huge praise after her father was jailed for raping her over a 10-year period.

Days earlier Patrick O'Brien walked free from the Central Criminal Court. But his bail was revoked by sentencing judge Mr Justice Paul Carney after he admitted he was wrong and insensitive to let the 72-year-old out on bail.

Ms Doyle has since argued for reform of sentencing laws in relation to sexual assault and rape cases.

 

PROM NIGHT

The dramatic decision to liquidate the former Anglo Irish Bank started out like a cruel joke.

The bank had already been nationalised in 2009, but the Dail held an all-night sitting -- that became known as 'Prom Night' -- to rush through legislation to liquidate the IBRC (formerly Anglo).

The decision to hermetically seal Anglo overnight was a quid pro quo to secure agreement from the European Central Bank to scrap a previous deal for €31bn in payments in respect of Anglo for the next 10 years.

We'll pay the full lot back in long-term sovereign bonds instead.

 

RIGHT TO DIE

In April, multiple sclerosis sufferer Marie Fleming lost her Supreme Court appeal challenging Ireland's ban on assisted suicide.

The defeat was expected, but Ms Fleming -- who was described by High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns as "the most remarkable witness that any member of the court had ever been privileged to encounter" -- kick-started a national debate about end-of-life issues.

She died just before Christmas in the care of her partner Tom Curran.

Ms Fleming spoke of her legal action in a letter read out to mourners at her funeral. "It is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all," she wrote.

 

SEAN DUNNE IS BANKRUPTED ---TWICE

If 2012 was the year in which Sean Quinn's bankruptcy drama captivated the public, 2013 belonged to bust developer Sean Dunne.

The Carlow-born builder filed for bankruptcy last March in America, blaming non-NAMA lender Ulster Bank for the move.

NAMA filed a legal complaint in the US court seeking to prevent his discharge from bankruptcy and, in a transatlantic drama that is still playing out, Dunne was adjudicated a bankrupt in both countries.

Dunne memorably told a US court that he had given his wife Gayle Killilea Dunne €100m in 2005 in return for her "love and affection", their children, a happy marriage -- and the odd shirt being washed by the former gossip columnist.

 

LAPGATE - AND ANOTHER ALL-NIGHTER

In July, the Oireachtas held its second all-night sitting of 2013 to pass the long-awaited Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

The sitting, which lasted until 5am, prompted howls of protest, not least because €7k was spent in the Dail bar.

It was also overshadowed by the infamous "lapgate" incident which saw Fine Gael TD Tom Barry grab his colleague Aine Collins on to his lap in the Dail chamber during a break in the abortion debate.

 

THE BIG HOUSE - AND THE BIG LEGAL BILL

The dispute between Sligo County Council and barristers Eddie and Constance Cassidy over rights of way at the Lissadel Estate in County Sligo lasted 58 days in the High Court.

Last November the Cassidys emerged victorious when the Supreme Court overturned a High Court judgment which found there were public rights of way to the Lissadel Estate.

A hearing on legal costs -- estimated at an eye watering €7m -- will be heard in 2014.

 

ANTHONY LYONS

The aviation boss is facing a potential second spell in jail after the Court of Criminal Appeal ruled last November that a six-month prison sentence for a violent sex attack was too lenient.

Lyons, right, was originally sentenced to six years, but five and a half were suspended, sparking a huge public outcry.

Mr Lyons will find out within weeks if he is going back to jail.

 

THE ROGUE SOLICITOR

Former solicitor Thomas Byrne made legal history when he was sentenced to 12 years for a €52m fraud.

One of 10 solicitors under investigation by the Garda Fraud Bureau, his sentence was the longest ever for white collar crime.

 

BAIL REFUSED

The year ended with a decision by the Supreme Court to refuse bail to murder-accused Graham Dwyer.

The architect and married father of two is charged with the murder of childcare worker Elaine O'Hara. Mr Dwyer is due before the district court again on January 15.

Irish Independent

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