Jeffrey v The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence

JudgeMr. Justice Clarke
Judgment Date08 May 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] IESC 27
CourtSupreme Court
Docket NumberAppeal No: 266/2014
Date08 May 2019
Damien Jeffrey
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, The Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, Ireland


the Attorney General

[2019] IESC 27

Appeal No: 266/2014


Negligence – Breach of duty – Negligent misrepresentation – Appellant seeking damages for negligence, breach of duty and negligent misrepresentation – Whether the proceedings were bound to fail

Facts: The plaintiff/appellant, Mr Jeffrey, commenced proceedings in the High Court seeking damages for negligence, breach of duty and negligent misrepresentation. The defendants/respondents, the State, brought an application before the High Court seeking to have those proceedings dismissed either on the basis that the claim as pleaded disclosed no cause of action or that the proceedings were bound to fail. The High Court (Barrett J) acceded to the State’s application and the proceedings were dismissed. Mr Jeffrey then appealed to the Supreme Court. The State suggested that there were three matters which made the proceedings bound to fail: (i) the question of whether a statement of the type made by the presenting garda in the case can give rise to a claim in negligent misstatement; (ii) the question of whether it could be said that the presenting garda, for whose actions the State was assumed to be vicariously liable, owed a duty of care to Mr Jeffrey; and (iii) the potential immunity of the presenting garda arising from the fact that what was said occurred in the course of the conduct of court proceedings.

Held by Clarke CJ that it was at least arguable that a person may be able successfully to maintain a claim for negligent misstatement where, although the injury claimed relates principally to loss of reputation, it can also be established that economic loss has occurred as well. Clarke CJ was also satisfied that there was sufficient doubt about the precise parameters of any duty of care which might be owed by a person, such as Inspector Connolly, to anyone else arising out of the conduct of court proceedings, such that it could not be said that Mr Jeffrey’s proceedings will be bound to fail on the basis of an absence of a duty of care. While concluding that there may well be grounds for believing that Inspector Connolly may enjoy an immunity from suit having regard to the proper characterisation of his role in the District Court proceedings against Mr Jeffrey, that question was, in Clarke CJ’s judgment, complex and not one where it could be said with sufficient clarity that the defence will prevail on the grounds of immunity alone.

Clarke CJ held that, against the backdrop of those findings, and having regard to the principle that a party should be allowed ordinarily to amend their proceedings if it is necessary to do so in order to permit a sustainable case to go ahead, the appeal would be allowed and Mr Jeffrey should be permitted to pursue a claim, but one which is confined to seeking to establish negligence behind the statements made in court and, importantly, economic loss which can be causally linked to those statements. Insofar as any claim to general damage to reputation is concerned, it did not seem to Clarke CJ to be clear that Mr Jeffrey’s claim is bound to fail for to hold otherwise would be to accept that it is possible to use negligent misstatement to get around the carefully crafted boundaries of the law of defamation. Clarke CJ proposed that the Court should hear counsel further on what practical steps should be put in place to allow for the appropriate amendment of the proceedings, so as to enable them to progress in accordance with the parameters which he had identified.

Appeal allowed.

Judgment of Mr. Justice Clarke , Chief Justice, delivered the 8th May, 2019
1. Introduction

In one sense, the sole issue which arises on this appeal concerns the legal status of a senior member of An Garda Síochána who presents or conducts a criminal prosecution in the District Court on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The underlying facts of this case are not in dispute, although it will be necessary to outline them in slightly more detail at a subsequent stage of this judgment. The plaintiff/appellant, Mr. Jeffrey, was convicted in the District Court of drunk driving. In the context of the sentencing process, the presenting garda indicated to the District Judge that Mr. Jeffrey had a very significant criminal record including convictions for serious criminal offences. This was contested strongly by Mr. Jeffrey's solicitor. It would appear that, in view of the fact that none of the offences related to road traffic matters, the District Judge did not consider that the alleged but contested criminal record was particularly relevant when imposing sentence. However, it would also appear that the fact that Mr. Jeffrey was alleged to have a significant criminal record was reported in the local newspapers and, it is said, had significant adverse consequences for him.


It transpired that the statement made by the presenting garda was completely wrong, for Mr. Jeffrey had no previous convictions of any sort and there would appear to have been some confusion between him and someone else of the same name. It does have to be said that some aspects of the manner in which An Garda Síochána handled their mistake in this case do not reflect particularly well on the force. There was a belated acceptance that the statement made in court was wrong, coupled with a written statement of regret. However, An Garda Síochána declined to go into court and, as it were, correct the record. Whatever may be the legal consequences, if any, of that sequence of events, it does not seem to me to be reasonable to fail to make a public correction of what was accepted to have been a damaging but erroneous statement made by a senior member of An Garda Síochána in open court. While appreciating that the correspondence had become litigious by the relevant time, it seems to me that, if Mr. Jeffrey was damaged by the garda mistake in the first place, it would not seem to be too much to ask that a correction should be made in the same forum, in the hope that the damage thereby caused might be negatived.


However, in reality, all of that is but background to the relatively net and narrow legal issues which arise on this appeal. Mr. Jeffrey commenced proceedings in the High Court. The defendants/respondents (‘the State’) brought an application before the High Court seeking to have those proceedings dismissed either on the basis that the claim as pleaded disclosed no cause of action or that the proceedings were bound to fail. For reasons set out in a judgment of Barrett J. ( Jeffrey v. Minister for Justice and Equality & ors. [2014] IEHC 99, [2014] 3 I.R. 508), the High Court acceded to the State's application and the proceedings were dismissed.


Mr. Jeffrey then appealed to this Court. For completeness, it should be noted that this appeal was one of those cases which were initially transferred from this Court to the Court of Appeal but have, in recent times, been returned to this Court.


In order to understand the precise legal issues which arise, it is appropriate to start by setting out the facts in a little more detail.

2. The Facts

On the 9th December 2010, Mr. Jeffrey appeared at Sligo District Court to answer charges brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions arising out of certain road traffic offences. Mr. Jeffrey pleaded guilty to the offences. During the course of the hearing on that date, a member of An Garda Síochána, Inspector Connolly, in the course of presenting the case on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, described what were said to be Mr. Jeffrey's previous convictions to the Court. Inspector Connolly was not sworn at the time. In fact, Inspector Connolly erroneously described the previous convictions of a different person with the same name as Mr. Jeffrey.


Prior to sentencing, Mr. Jeffrey's solicitor strongly suggested to the Court that an error had been made, that the convictions described by Inspector Connolly did not relate to Mr. Jeffrey and that Mr. Jeffrey did not, in fact, have any previous convictions. Following this submission, the District Court proceeded to sentence Mr. Jeffrey without, it would appear, taking those alleged previous convictions into account. However, despite this, the erroneous account of the previous convictions was reported in local media.


Following the District Court proceedings, solicitors acting for Mr. Jeffrey engaged in correspondence with the gardaí requesting an admission of liability, a published written apology and compensation for the injury and distress arising from the actions of the State. Mr. Jeffrey's solicitors also requested that the Garda Superintendent appear before the District Court to outline the inaccuracy of the information provided to the Court by Inspector Connolly, to formally correct the public record, apologise to Mr. Jeffrey and allow the media the opportunity to report on the matter. The gardaí did not accede to any of these requests.


It should be noted at this stage that, during the course of the oral hearing of this appeal, counsel on behalf of the State made clear that the statement made by Inspector Connolly in the District Court was incorrect and that Mr. Jeffrey, prior to his conviction in the District Court, had no previous convictions of any sort.


These proceedings were commenced in the High Court on behalf of Mr. Jeffrey by plenary summons issued on the 20th October 2011. A statement of claim was delivered on the 17th January 2012.


It is next necessary to set out the case as pleaded by Mr. Jeffrey. This is particularly relevant because one of the core contentions made on behalf of the State on this appeal was that the substance of Mr. Jeffrey's claim was one in defamation, even though it was...

To continue reading

Request your trial
9 cases
  • O'Connor v Legal Aid Board
    • Ireland
    • Court of Appeal (Ireland)
    • 6 October 2022
    ...make an order under this rule when a pleading discloses no reasonable cause of action on its face”. In Jeffrey v. Minister for Justice [2019] IESC 27, Clarke J. echoed the view expressed by Costello J. in Barry v. Buckley when he stated, “in hearing an application under O.19, r.28, the Cour......
  • Mangan v Dockery, Mangan v Dockery
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 4 November 2020
    ...frivolous or vexatious (at p. 170). The same was reaffirmed by this Court in ( Jeffrey v. Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform [2019] IESC 27 (Unreported, Supreme Court, 8 th May, 2019) at para. 5.2). Accordingly, there is no doubt but that the rule is exclusively pleadings 59 An o......
  • Ballymore Residential Ltd and Crosswinds Cottage Ltd v Roadstone Ltd, CRH Public Ltd Company, Murphy Concrete (Manufacturing) Ltd and William Miley Ltd
    • Ireland
    • Court of Appeal (Ireland)
    • 4 June 2021
    ...can properly be determined, without risk of injustice, within the confines of a strike-out application: Jeffrey v Minister for Defence [2019] IESC 27, [2020] 1 ILRM 67. • Roadstone's core argument – that the further prosecution of the Indemnity Proceedings is so clearly inconsistent with th......
  • Marley v DPP and Others
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 16 May 2023
    ...rests on a Defendant arguing that a claim is bound to fail. The Supreme Court in Jeffrey v Minister for Justice Equality and Defence [2019] IESC 27, [2020] 1 ILRM 67 suggests at paragraph 7.4, albeit obiter, that it may be possible for a court to resolve a simple and straightforward issue o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT