Monday 23 April 2018

Ex-Rehab boss Kerins avoids large legal bill over failed PAC case

Angela Kerins. Photo: Collins Courts
Angela Kerins. Photo: Collins Courts
Claim: Angela Kerins Picture: Collins Courts
Former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins leaves the High Court. Photo: Collins Courts
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins has avoided having to pay a massive legal bill after her failed High Court action against the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Normally losing parties would have to bear all of the costs, expected in this case to be between €500,000 and €700,000 after ten days of hearings last year.

However, the three-judge division of the Court ruled today that the PAC will have to pay two-thirds of Ms Kerins’s legal bill.

The decision means the PAC will also have to pay its own legal costs on top of that. These stand at €234,000, according to documents released under Freedom of Information rules.

Two other defendants in the case, Ireland and the Attorney General, will also have to pay their own legal costs after they failed to secure orders for costs against Ms Kerins.

Ms Kerins (58) unsuccessfully sued for damages and sought declarations that the PAC’s activities were unlawful and tainted by bias following two hearings of the committee in 2014.

Claim: Angela Kerins Picture: Collins Courts
Claim: Angela Kerins Picture: Collins Courts

She alleged bullying by certain committee members, claiming they pursued a “vendetta” and “a witch-hunt” against her, forcing her to attempt suicide.

In a judgment read out by the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, the court found the circumstances of the case warranted a departure from the normal rules on costs.

Former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins leaves the High Court. Photo: Collins Courts
Former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins leaves the High Court. Photo: Collins Courts

He said Ms Kerins had attended the PAC in a voluntary capacity on February 27, 2014 and was dealt with in a manner set out in a previous judgment of the court.

That judgment said comments were made by TDs had damaged her reputation personally and professionally.

Mr Justice Kelly said Ms Kerins was not in attendance for medical reasons at a second hearing on April 10, 2014, but in her absence was dealt with in the manner described.

The judge said the court was restrained by the Constitution from commenting on utterances made by any member of the PAC.

“But nonetheless it cannot be gainsaid that much of what was put to the applicant and said about her in the course of the two meetings in question was damaging to her reputation personally and professionally,” he said.

The ruling said the court was satisfied the taking of the proceedings by Ms Kerins was “a proportionate reaction” to what had occurred.

It also said the court was satisfied Ms Kerins had “raised issues of special and general public importance and of some novelty”.

“She raised issues concerning the legal safeguards, if any, available to witnesses who appear before the PAC in a voluntary capacity,” the ruling said.

“The PAC has an important function. Questions concerning the proper discharge of its function and the conduct of its members are matters of public importance.”

The ruling went on to say the case also raised important questions of freedom of speech in parliament, the separation of powers and the extent to which the court may intervene in the affairs of the legislature.

The court said the case determined that Article 15.13 of the Constitution, concerning Oireachtas privilege, extended to comments made in committees as well as in the Dáil and Seanad.

“The case also casts light on the position of persons who volunteer to appear before the PAC,” it said.

“This may well have implications for the PAC in future since the court was told that it operates to a significant extent on voluntary participation of witnesses in hearings before it.”

A stay has been put on the costs order in the event of an appeal.

At a previous hearing, Ms Kerins’s counsel, John Rogers SC, argued she should be able to recover her costs from the PAC as it had acted outside its jurisdiction in its dealings with her.

He said Ms Kerins took the case where there was no established precedent which determined the extent of the immunities enjoyed by Oireachtas committees.

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