Former Rehab boss Angela Kerins
Further to yesterday’s post on the award of 75% of costs to losing party Angela Kerins in her case against the Public Accounts Committee, Broadsheet commenter Harry Molloy asked me to come back to readers when the full written judgment had been published. It is now available here.
The justification for the award of costs is set out by the Court at paragraphs 26-33 and appears to be as follows:-
(i) The PAC has an important function. Questions concerning the proper discharge of its function and the conduct of its members and the legal safeguards (if any) available to witness who appear before it are matters of public importance, involving questions of freedom of speech in Parliament, the separation of powers and the extent to which the court may intervene in the affairs of the Legislature.
(ii) Ms Kerins attended before the PAC in a voluntary capacity and much of what was put to her and said about her was damaging to her reputation personally and professionally. By bringing her action, Ms Kerins cast a light on the position of persons who volunteer to appear before the PAC. The institution of proceedings on her part was a proportionate reaction on her part to what had occurred and as such and the fact that she had a personal interest in the outcome of the application should not preclude her obtaining her costs.
The implication from the ruling was that Ms Kerins had not been well treated by the PAC and therefore it was justifiable for her to seek to clarify the law in relation to the position of witnesses appearing before it.
There is also an implication that she performed a public service in alerting potential witnesses to the risks of appearing before the PAC.
Although within the (very wide) parameters of the discretion laid down by previous case law, the ruling does break new ground in that it sanctions an award of costs to an unsuccessful litigant with a personal interest in proceedings on a matter of public interest where that litigant acted proportionately in bringing the proceedings.
It will be interesting to see what implications this ruling will have for Denis O’Brien’s costs in his recent unsuccessful application for parliamentary privilege. Will the richest man in Ireland be entitled to his costs on a losing case on the basis that he acted ‘proportionately’?
And, more pressingly, what does proportionately even mean?
Yesterday: Compo Claim Madness