Tuesday 19 March 2019

High Court president hits out at Honohan for 'grotesque' decision

President of the High Court, Peter Kelly. Photo: Damien Eagers
President of the High Court, Peter Kelly. Photo: Damien Eagers
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A senior judge has criticised a decision by the Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan to appoint an 82-year-old convicted criminal to represent the best interests of children in a legal dispute.

High Court President Peter Kelly said having such a person in that position would be "grotesque" and "improper".

Mr Justice Kelly made the comments as he set aside an order made by Mr Honohan in January appointing Michael Grimes as guardian ad-litem, or next friend, to three children whose parents have been embroiled in litigation with the Revenue Commissioners.

It was the second time Mr Honohan appointed Mr Grimes, a former company director from Innishannon, Co Cork, to represent the best interests of the children.

A previous order he made in July 2017 was set aside by Mr Justice Kelly later that year.

Mr Grimes pleaded guilty last year to a number of criminal offences under the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. The charges related to unpaid VAT liabilities of €340,000.

Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan. Photo: Collins Courts
Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan. Photo: Collins Courts

He was given a two-and-a-half year sentence, which was suspended on a number of conditions.

These included that he would desist from interfering with the Revenue in its assessment and collection of taxes, either on his own behalf or on behalf of others. Another condition was that he refrain from vexatious correspondence with the Revenue or its agents.

Setting aside the order made by Mr Honohan on January 11, Mr Justice Kelly said Mr Grimes did "not display any special relationship or skill which would justify him being appointed", were such an appointment necessary.

"Over and above that, it would be quite improper for the court to appoint somebody who has a sentence of imprisonment of two-and-a-half years hanging over him as a result of a plea of guilty," said Mr Justice Kelly.

"Such a person to be acting as a guardian ad-litem or next friend of infant children would be grotesque. It is quite improper. I don't know whether the Master when he made the order which he did in January of this year was acquainted with that fact.

"Had he been, it would have been perverse for him to have made the order which he did."

The order was set aside following an application by lawyers representing a Revenue-appointed liquidator.

The case it arose in dates back several years and relates to a multi-million euro judgment the Revenue secured against the children's father in respect of unpaid taxes.

At a hearing on Tuesday, Mr Grimes said a June 2017 High Court order gave the parents a fortnight to leave the family home, meaning the children faced being evicted without recourse to the courts.

He also said that if he was to be removed as guardian ad-litem, someone else should be appointed.

However, lawyers for the liquidator said there was no imminent danger of the family home being repossessed.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Kelly noted a settlement agreement was entered into which entitled the family to remain in their home. He said as far as he was aware, the conditions of the agreement were being met. "Consequently any danger, imminent or otherwise, to any children losing their family home, is zero," he said.

The hearing took place just weeks after Mr Justice Kelly issued a practice direction removing debt cases from Mr Honohan's court.

Irish Independent

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