Lotto winner’s 11-year saga highlights ‘systemic problem’ in Irish courts
Posted on 30th April 2020 at 23:02
European Court of Human Rights finds ‘no adequate explanation’ for delays in appeals
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has upheld a complaint by a former Lotto winner that his right to a fair trial within a reasonable timeframe had been violated by the Irish courts system.
In an unanimous decision the seven-judge court found that the time it took the Supreme Court to deal with an appeal taken by former Lotto winner, Vincent Keaney, from Cobh, Co Cork, was a violation of article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
It also found unanimously that there had been a violation of article 13, which concerns a person’s entitlement to an effective remedy when there has been a breach of their rights.
However, the court decided not to grant any financial award to Mr Keaney, because of findings by the Irish courts that the way he had pursued his unsuccessful pleas in the Irish courts, had come close to being an abuse of process.
“It was not the court’s intention to provide a perverse incentive to applicants to pursue cases in an abusive manner at domestic level only to seek to secure a violation of the European Convention thereafter,” the court said in a statement released with the judgement.
Irish judge, Síofra O’Leary, who was one of the seven judges who heard the case, issued a separate but concurring judgment in which she referred to “signs of a systemic problem” in the Irish courts system in relation to the right to a timely trial.
She said the fact that the case had been dealt with by a seven-judge “chamber” rather than a more usual three-judge committee, was recognition of the importance of the matters raised by the case, specifically in relation to the Irish courts system.
Titanic Bar and Restaurant
Mr Keaney, who won £1 million in the mid-1990s when he was an unemployed single parent, bought a building in Cobh with his winnings where he intended to run the Titanic Bar and Restaurant.
He invested almost half a million pounds in the plan to convert the former Cunard White Star terminal in Cobh, which was used by the transatlantic liner route, but ran out of money.
He then borrowed extensively in an attempt to complete the project, and sought investment from third parties.
However, the business was unsuccessful and in 2006 he took proceedings against 18 defendants, making various claims including deceit, fraud, and undue influence.
The entire proceedings, in which Mr Keaney was ultimately unsuccessful, were resolved after 11 years and two months.
In the High Court many of his claims were found to have been “frivolous or vexatious”.
The Supreme Court indicated that the addition of unsubstantiated allegations in his written submissions was “nothing short of an abuse of process”.
The appeals were lodged between 2007 and 2009, and were dismissed by the Supreme Court between 2015 and 2017.
Mr Keaney complained to the ECHR about the length of time between the institution of his civil proceedings and delivery of the final judgment, and claimed that delays in his case had been caused by the organisation of the Irish legal system.
The Luxembourg-based court has now found that the High Court proceedings were resolved within a reasonable timeframe given the conduct of Mr Keaney, but that this was not the case with the Supreme Court appeals, even though problems persisted with how Mr Keaney processed those proceedings.
His conduct alone could not justify the entire length of the appeal proceedings, it has decided.
Certain stages of the Supreme Court proceedings had been unreasonably protracted. Mr Keaney’s inaction in prosecuting his appeals before the Supreme Court had apparently persisted without repercussions until such time as the defendants had taken action seeking to dismiss them, the ECHR said.
“It had taken eight years between the applicant appealing to the Supreme Court and the dismissal of his second appeal. No adequate explanation had been given for the appeals having been allowed to lie dormant for between five and seven years.”
The court also found that it did not consider the Irish State’s view that people who had been denied a timely trial could seek damages through the courts, to be an effective remedy.
It said it had flagged problems in this area as far back as 2003 and in a number of judgments since then.
There were problems in relation to Irish jurisprudence, but “also concerns about the speediness of the remedial action itself”.
It noted the length of time it took to process civil appeals in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, citing data from the 2018 annual report of the Courts Service.
A scheme for a new law to address the remedy issue, the European Convention on Human Rights (Compensation for delays in Court Proceedings) Bill 2018, remained at a pre-legislative stage, the ECHR noted. The court was told it required further consideration at Government level.
Ms O’Leary said the case reflected “the daily reality which faces courts in jurisdictions where the ratio of judges to population is low, where the volume of litigation is substantially greater than the number of judges made available to deal with it, where commensurate resources are lacking, and where procedural rules may need an overhaul to protect the courts and other litigants from those who waste time”.
Share this post: