High Court: Members of Public Accounts Committee let out of lay litigant’s proceedings and early trial refused



High Court
High Court

Members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have been let out of proceedings taken by a lay litigant against the Committee and Dublin City Council, and the plaintiff’s application for an early trial pursuant to Order 50, rule 2 of the Rules of the Superior Courts has been refused by the High Court.

Finding that it would be inappropriate to direct an early trial of the issues between the parties when the pleadings have not yet closed, Mr Justice Anthony Barr refused the application for an early hearing of the issues.

Background

The plaintiff, John Searson, a tenant of the first defendant, Dublin City Council, alleged that in March 2010, Dublin City Council carried out refurbishment works to his home in Drimnagh which were grossly defective. He complained that doors and windows were not properly fitted and that there was defective work to the kitchen and bathroom. He said that he and his family have been caused to live in an uninhabitable house for the last ten years as a result of this defective work.

In 2014, Mr Searson lodged a complaint about the works carried out by Dublin City Council with the clerk of the PAC, who referred the matter to the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. They wrote to Dublin City Council about Mr Searson’s complaint. Dublin City Council responded by letter stating that the current formula of fitting windows complied fully with building and disability regulations. The Joint Committee wrote to Mr Searson, informing him of Dublin City Council’s response and further informing him that at its meeting, the Joint Committee had decided that the matter could not be progressed further by them as the issues raised by the Mr Searson did not constitute a public service oversight issue.

Legal proceedings

On 30 August 2018, Mr Searson issued a plenary summons against Dublin City Council and the PAC claiming damages from the Council in respect of the loss and inconvenience suffered, and damages against the PAC for its failure to deal with his complaint and for entering into a conspiracy with the first defendant to injure the rights enjoyed by Mr Searson under Irish and European law.

Mr Searson made an application to Mr Justice Barr for an early hearing of the issues, and a number of “quite extraordinary” ancillary reliefs, including the arrest of the solicitor and counsel for Dublin City Council and the judge who heard the earlier application in the matter.

The second to fourteenth named defendants, who were all members of the Committee of Public Accounts, did not reply to the plaintiff’s application. They had a separate motion to be let out of the proceedings on the basis that Mr Searson’s claim did not disclose any cause of action against them and should be dismissed for being frivolous and vexatious. Mr Justice Barr found for them and accordingly dismissed the plaintiff’s action against them.

Counsel for Dublin City Council submitted that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain this application, as the same application had previously been made to Mr Justice Michael MacGrath. Mr Justice Barr held that the court was not prevented from considering this application on behalf of Mr Searson, as the Perfected Order that was drawn up following that hearing did not refer to the application for an early hearing of the trial between the parties.

The court held that where a party applies for an early hearing at a particular moment in time, and is refused that relief, this does not necessarily mean that they could not remake the application some considerable time later, if circumstances had changed. Mr Justice Barr found for Dublin City Council in that Order 50, rule 2 relates to a provision that is available to the court on the hearing of an interlocutory matter. There was no interlocutory application made by Mr Searson to the court on this application and therefore the court lacked jurisdiction under the Rules to direct an early trial.

Counsel for Dublin City Council said that it would be inappropriate to direct an early trial because the pleadings had not closed between the parties, as a defence had not been filed. Counsel indicated that the City Council was out of time to file its defence under the provisions of the Rules, and that its solicitor had written to Mr Searson asking whether he would consent to late filing of a defence.

Mr Justice Barr formally invited Mr Searson, pursuant to section 16 of the Mediation Act 2017 to re-engage in mediation, but he declined to do so. Mr Justice Barr said that it “is a pity that the plaintiff has not elected to continue with the mediation” as the court was told it had progressed reasonably well. However, the judge noted that he can only make a formal invitation to parties to enter into mediation, and that a party cannot be forced to do so against his will.

Conclusion

In denying all the reliefs sought, Mr Justice Barr stated that just because a defendant has not filed its defence does not mean that it is without rights. A defendant still has a right to apply to court for an extension of time within which to file its defence.

He said that it would be inappropriate to direct an early trial of the issues between the parties when the pleadings have not closed and, in particular, when the defendant’s side of the case has not been set out and therefore the court does not know what issues will arise for determination at the trial of the action.

He directed Dublin City Council to issue its motion seeking an extension of time within which to file its defence within a period of three weeks from the judgment.

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020



Other judgments by Mr Justice Anthony Barr