Saturday 19 October 2019

Vicky Phelan: 'Courtroom is terrifying for plaintiffs' -

CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan believes the legal process needs to be demystified

Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Campaigner Vicky Phelan says the courtroom is a "terrifying" place for plaintiffs in negligence cases.

The mother of two last year settled her case against a US testing laboratory for €2.5m over the alleged misreading of her smear tests under the CervicalCheck programme.

After resisting efforts to impose a gagging order, she helped reveal how many other women were affected too.

Speaking about her High Court case, she described the courtroom as intimidating and confusing and the seating as uncomfortable for the sick.

It is also difficult for some plaintiffs to follow what is going on in court, Ms Phelan told the Bar of Ireland's Laws & Effect Conference in Killenard, Co Laois.

She described the difficult experience of having lawyers refer to her terminal diagnosis, which she was still coming to terms with at the time.

Ms Phelan said she only started a new medication a few days before having to give evidence. She had a "terrible reaction" to the drug, with "really bad hallucinations".

"I was very sick and I was on a lot of painkilling medication," she said. She also said her husband, Jim, struggled with the court process and at one point required medication for anxiety. "Going to court is a very, very terrifying experience for most people," she said. "The courtroom is a terrifying place for plaintiffs."

She said this was not just because she was ill and worried about what was to come, but because of the layout.

"I felt the layout of the court, with the stepped arrangement and everybody on different levels, was very intimidating and confusing to me," she said.

When giving evidence witnesses sit on an elevated stand and cannot see their solicitors, who face a different direction.

"I couldn't see the people who I trusted the most. I couldn't see my family or my friends. I couldn't see my solicitors," she said. "Until that day I went in to give evidence, I did not know I wouldn't be able to see my solicitor. It threw me."

Ms Phelan said it would be useful to demystify the court.

"I would have liked to have been shown the courtroom, maybe a tour, to be walked around the courtroom," she said. "Or, even if that was not possible, to be shown photos of the courtroom and to go through that with my solicitor or barrister or somebody who would be an advocate for plaintiffs."

Sunday Independent

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