Saturday 24 June 2017

Unrepentant Honohan ups criticism of solicitors

Master of the High Court hits out at 'economy with truth' under oath

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

The Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan yesterday ramped up his criticism of solicitors telling lies in court.

Mr Honohan has said that "economy with the truth" by solicitors under oath could stop people getting justice in the courts -- especially those in debt who represent themselves against banks and other creditors because they can't afford legal representation.

It follows spiky public correspondence between Mr Honohan, a brother of Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan, and the director general of the Law Society Ken Murphy.

Mr Murphy responded angrily to a written comment by Mr Honohan that out of all the people who swear affidavits, solicitors were the group "most frequently found to have only a nodding acquaintance with the truth".

Mr Murphy, in the letters page of The Irish Times, said the comment by Mr Honohan was "a vicious sideswipe against the entire solicitors' profession" and an "outrageous and utterly unjustified slur on the integrity of the entire solicitors' profession".

Mr Murphy wrote that Mr Honohan's reported branding of the solictors' profession as frequently untruthful in their dealings with the courts was "unworthy of anyone involved in the administration of justice".

But yesterday, speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Honohan was unrepentant.

He said he was speaking about a complicated area related to applications made to the court for "fast track" summary judgements and court procedures.

"It involves the court expediting or rushing the plaintiff's case through to an early decision or judgement. What I was referring to was the position of a lay litigant who is not represented in court.

"You can understand that anywhere there is a fast track approach... it is difficult for a lay person to understand where, or what he should say or do.

"That has been happening in my court and in courts generally for years now. Now the number of lay litigants without representation has skyrocketed because they can't afford lawyers. The question is do they get a fair hearing?"

He said he was raising the question as to whether solicitors are aware of the obligation on them to address issues in court objectively.

"I have simply been pointing out, and have been for years, that solicitors are in the habit of simply countersigning documents on the basis of their client's instructions. The client tells the solicitors there is no defence, and the solicitor says 'fair enough, I'll sign off on that'. But he is doing so under oath," he said.

"Now that's where the obligation and solemnity is of some importance in terms of a fair hearing. That evidence can go unchallenged. The file is not looked at by the court and the lay litigant is left floundering, and gasping.

"My comments about solicitors telling the truth was part of an overall analysis of whether the court should accept the evidence of a solicitor as reliable. My view is that the oath has become debased to such an extent that it shouldn't," he added.

Sunday Independent

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