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Monday 19 August 2019

Court hears arguments on funding in Esat contract case

Eoin Reynolds

A LAW about third-party funding of legal cases in Ireland comes from an era when people thought the earth was the centre of the universe and witches were burned at the stake, the High Court has heard.

Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly yesterday heard a second day of submissions in an application for approval of a funding agreement as part of a legal claim against Denis O'Brien, Michael Lowry and the Irish State.

A British company is funding the damages claim by the runner-up in the bid to win the 1996 competition for a mobile phone licence that was awarded to Mr O'Brien's Esat Digifone consortium.

It claims that Esat won the competition by bribing the then Communications Minister Michael Lowry - which is denied.

The case was brought against the Minister for Enterprise and the State. Mr O'Brien secured an order allowing him to be joined in the proceedings last year, while Mr Lowry, now an Independent TD, is a third party to the case.

The State has criticised the agreement between the British company Persona Digital Telephony and Sigma Wireless Networks, and Harbour Litigation Funding who are financing the legal action. It is the first time the issue of 'third-party funding' has come directly before the courts of Ireland.

This type of agreement is prohibited by the law of champerty, which prevents third parties funding a case in the hope of benefiting if the litigant is successful.

Yesterday at the High Court, Michael Collins SC, acting for Persona, said the law had not been updated since the 1600s.

He said the Constitution and the Oireachtas had nothing to say on the law of champerty, therefore it was up to the judge to introduce a common law judgment.

He said champerty law heralded from an era when people thought the earth was the centre of the universe and witches were burned at the stake.

Persona has said that it does not have the money to take the case on its own.

Irish Independent

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