Friday 20 September 2019

Court hears medieval laws invoked in claim against O'Brien, Lowry

Former minister Michael Lowry
Former minister Michael Lowry

Eoin Reynolds

Medieval laws are being invoked in a legal claim against Denis O'Brien, the Irish State and former minister Michael Lowry, the High Court heard

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 Denis O'Brien's Esat Digifone consortium.

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

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.

The plaintiffs have brought an application before the High Court for approval of the funding agreement. This marks the first time the issue of "third-party funding" has come directly before the courts of Ireland.

Harbour Litigation Funding will get a share of the proceeds if members of the consortium win their action.

In previous submissions to the court, the State argued that this arrangement was a breach of champerty law - a law that prevents unrelated third parties from financing legal actions in the hope of taking some of the proceeds of a victory.

Yesterday Mr Michael Collins SC, representing Persona, said that champerty law was introduced in medieval times to protect people from the abuses of feudal lords.

"They belong to a time that is unrecognisable today," he said.

He pointed out that other countries with similar legal systems to Ireland, including Britain, allowed this type of litigation on the grounds that it gives legal access to people or institutions who would otherwise not have the money.

He said the statutory basis for champerty was "ancient and difficult to understand in a modern context". He added the State would have to show that the agreement between the two parties undermined the integrity of the judicial process, and he said that they could not as this was not the case.

The plaintiffs claim damages for alleged misfeasance in public office, breach of duty, including statutory duty, breach of contract, breach of legitimate expectations, breach of Constitutional rights, breach of rights under EU law and a declaration that the European Communities (Mobiles and Personal Communications) Regulations 1996 contravene EU law.

The case continues before Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly today.

Irish Independent

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