A Lotto winner – who lost his fortune in an ill-fated Titanic-themed pub venture – has won a landmark human rights judgement over undue delays in the Irish court system.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of Vincent Keaney, from Cobh, Co Cork, whose subsequent cases against business partners and others took a total of 11 years and two months to be finally processed by the Irish High and Supreme Court.
The Strasbourg-based judges ruled that Mr Keaney’s right to a fair trial in good time had been breached by Supreme Court delays, and that these undue delays had not given him the effective legal remedy to which was also his right.
In 2017 and 2018 the Supreme Court upheld rulings by the High Court in 2007 which found against the plaintiff and noted some of his claims were “frivolous or vexatious.”
This European Court ruling does not include any monetary compensation but the judgement indicates that there are ongoing concerns about Irish Supreme Court delays.
Mr Keaney, now aged 65, won IR£1m (€1.26m) in the National Lottery in 1994 and embarked on his dream to open a pub dedicated to the ill-starred Titanic which had made its last port-call to Cobh before sinking in 1912.
He chose the old Cunard shipping line offices, which were later a dole office, where he had signed-on when unemployed before his Lotto win.
But after the business failed a second time in 2006, Mr Keaney began litigation with a total of 18 other parties, and these cases were eventually rejected in the High Court.
The European Court noted that some of the time taken in the High Court was due to failings and delays by Mr Keaney and his representatives to file a proper documentation.
Given delays on Mr Keaney’s side it was notable that the High Court dealt with the case in a net five-month period. The ruling states that in the Supreme Court appeal there were again difficulties about lodging documents in good order.
But these could not justify the length of time it took for the case to be processed by the Irish Supreme Court, which amounted to eight years.
The Court of Human Rights found this breached Article 6 of the European Convention, which guarantees a fair trial in good time, and Article 13, which gives right to an effective remedy.
Seven judges of the court heard the case, including Irish representative, Judge Síofra O’Leary, and their ruling was unanimous. The European Court of Human Rights operates under the aegis of the Council of Europe which groups 47 European states and is entirely separate from the EU Court of Justice which sits in Luxembourg.