High Court Strongly Affirms Extent Of Parliamentary Privilege & Immunity

Author:Mr Niall Michel
Profession:Mason Hayes & Curran
 
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Ex-Rehab Group CEO Angela Kerins failed in her claim for damages against members of a parliamentary committee. She claimed that parliamentary privilege and immunity did not apply, as it had exceeded its jurisdiction by making utterances that constituted findings and determinations adverse to her, and failing to afford due process. A Divisional High Court has ruled against her in a case that reiterates important questions of freedom of speech in Parliament, the separation of powers, and the extent to which the courts may intervene in the affairs of Parliament.

Angela Kerins lost her High Court action against the way in which public hearings were carried out by the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee ("PAC"). This was in a case described by the three-judge Divisional High Court as concerning "important 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 Oireachtas".

Background

Article 15.13 of the Constitution is crystal clear: members of the Oireachtas "shall not, in respect of any utterance in either House, be amenable to any court or any authority other than the House itself."

Section 92 of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013 (the "2013 Act") similarly provides that a member of a House shall not be amenable to any court or authority (other than the House) in respect of any utterance in or before a parliamentary committee. 

Notwithstanding this, Ms Kerins had sought damages for personal injury, loss of reputation and loss of career arising from the manner in which the PAC had conducted its hearings. She claimed that it had exceeded its jurisdiction by making utterances that constituted findings and determinations adverse to her, and failing to afford due process. On established authority she claimed that she was thus, as a citizen, being made personally accountable to Parliament in a constitutionally impermissible way. On this basis, she claimed, parliamentary privilege and immunity did not apply.

Findings of the Court

While it seemed sympathetic to the underlying complaints made by Ms Kerins and commented that it "could not be gainsaid that much of what was put to her, and said about her... was damaging to her reputation personally and professionally", a three-judge High Court nevertheless rejected her claim and the arguments on which it was based.

Voluntariness

The death-knell for her case was Ms Kerins'...

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