Sunday 18 August 2019

Barrister who said she was 'treated like a Jew in Nazi Germany' loses case

Four Courts
Four Courts

Tim Healy

A barrister was “completely unjustified” in comparing the handling of complaints against her to the treatment of “a Jew in Nazi Germany”, a High Court judge has said.

Eugenie Houston had argued that her treatment was reminiscent of the Holocaust, when good people accepted an unacceptable regime.

She alleged her treatment was equivalent to being put in a burqa and placed in the middle of a field waiting to have her head chopped off, that she was subjected to modern-day slavery and to a “reign of terror”.

Ms Houston also claimed she was subjected to the equivalent of a “punishment beating” by the Bar Council, or members of its Professional Practices Committee (PPC), or by its Professional Conduct Tribunal (PCT) or by its Professional Conduct Appeals Board (PCAB).

Mr Justice Michael Twomey, in a judgment on Thursday, said her characterisation of the events was “completely unjustified”.

She sued various members of the Bar Council, including David Barniville who was later appointed a High Court judge, claiming defamation, breach of constitutional rights and of competition law by use of a dominant position.

She also claimed assault because she had been placed in fear over the way her complaint was handled.

The defendants denied the claims and the appeal bodies argued they were independent of the Bar Council.

Mr Justice Twomey told her he was dismissing all her claims because she had not made out a prima facie case.

He accepted she was “truthful and honest in relation to your perception of events that occurred”.

She alleged her treatment was equivalent to being put in a burqa and placed in the middle of a field waiting to have her head chopped off.

She was convinced she “is right and everyone else is wrong”, he said.

Combined with her personal turmoil, which cannot be underestimated, the proceedings appeared to be “in the nature of a crusade” against the Bar Council, he said.

Ms Houston said the judgment meant: “I am officially not a human being” and said she would be appealing it and that she would also go to the European Court of Justice.

The case arose after two solicitors made separate complaints about Ms Houston directly contacting clients whom they had previously acted for.

Under their code of conduct, barristers can only be consulted through a solicitor.

Mr Justice Twomey said this led to the PCT advising Ms Houston only to contact clients in accordance with the code.

The judge said the PCT’s handling of this relatively minor complaint somehow “led to a very extreme reaction” from her and led to her issuing five sets of proceedings over five years.

As a result, the defendants incurred legal costs of at least €500,000, he said.

Ms Houston said she has no assets and is no longer a member of the Law Library, which entailed her agreeing to the barristers’ code of conduct on being called to the bar in 2008.

“This case also illustrates how the high costs of litigation, particularly of unmeritorious litigation, can have a very significant impact upon insurance costs, in this case the insurance costs of the professional body representing barristers, which increased by 300pc,” the judge said.

An impecunious plaintiff can take a claim, which does not have any merit, and inflict enormous costs on a defendant.

This was one of those rare cases whereby the defendant by winning still loses because they are unable to recover those costs against an impecunious plaintiff, he said.

Ms Houston, who represented herself, was too closely connected with the dispute to provide herself with objective legal advice and this was why these proceedings, which started in 2014, “are still in being at enormous expense”, he said.

The judge adjourned to next week the making of formal orders in the case including a possible order preventing her taking further cases against the defendants without court permission.

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