Lawlor & Lawlor v Geraghty

JurisdictionIreland
CourtHigh Court
JudgeKearns P.
Judgment Date20 May 2010
Neutral Citation[2010] IEHC 168
Docket Number[2008 No. 991 JR]

[2010] IEHC 168

THE HIGH COURT

[No: 991 JR/2008
Lawlor v Geraghty
JUDICIAL REVIEW

BETWEEN

TOM LAWLOR AND MARGARET LAWLOR
APPLICANTS

AND

KIERAN GERAGHTY
RESPONDENT

CONSTITUTION

EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS & FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS

R (MIDDLETON) v HM CORONER FOR WESTERN SOMERSET 2004 2 AC 182 2004 2 WLR 800 2004 2 AER 465

MAGEE v FARRELL & ORS UNREP GILLIGAN 26.10.2005 2005/37/7652 2005 IEHC 388

MCKEOWN, STATE v SCULLY 1986 IR 524 1986 ILRM 133 1985/6/1392

CORONERS ACT 1962 S17

CORONERS ACT 1962 S30

EASTERN HEALTH BOARD v FARRELL (CORONER FOR CITY OF DUBLIN) 2001 4 IR 627 2001/9/2266

RAMSEYER v MAHON (ACTING CORONER FOR OFFALY) 2006 1 IR 216 2005/52/10900 2005 IESC 82

PHEASANTRY LTD, STATE v DISTRICT JUDGE DONNELLY & AG 1982 ILRM 512 1982/13/2560

FLYNN v DISTRICT JUDGE RUANE & DPP 1989 ILRM 690

O'CALLAGHAN v DISTRICT JUDGE CLIFFORD & DPP 1993 3 IR 603 1993/5/1155

G (C) v APPEAL CMRS UNREP FINLAY-GEOGHEGAN 18.3.2005 2005/27/5522 2005 IEHC 121

NORTHERN AREA HEALTH BOARD v GERAGHTY (DUBLIN CORONER) 2001 3 IR 321 2002 1 ILRM 367 2001/18/4883

R v HM CORNER FOR SOUTHWARK, EX PARTE HICKS 1987 1 WLR 1624 1987 2 AER 140

R v HM CORONER FOR LINCOLNSHIRE, EX PARTE HAY 1999 AER (D) 173

CORONER

Inquest

Fair procedures - Refusal to adjourn inquest - Next of kin - Power to inquire into circumstances of death - How deceased died - Duty to carry out full and sufficient inquiry - Whether coroner acted in unreasonable and unfair manner in refusing adjournment - Coroners Act 1962 (No 9), s 30 - Certiorari granted (2008/991JR - Kearns J - 20/5/2010) [2010] IEHC 168

Lawlor v Geraghty

Facts: The applicants sought leave for judicial review of the decision of the respondent to refuse their application for an adjournment of the Inquest into their son's death in circumstances where they say the respondent acted unreasonably in concluding the Inquest without having had the benefit of the hospital notes relevant to the deceased's treatment in Colombia. The deceased had died following extensive plastic surgery in Colombia. The applicants contended that the respondent was under a duty to enquire into the circumstances of the death of their son and to secure the necessary medical information to hold an Inquest.

Held by Kearns P. that an order would be made quashing the decision of the respondent to refuse the application for an adjournment. The decision of the respondent was inappropriate and disproportionate in the circumstances and the case was highly unusual and distressing. The decision of the respondent to record an Open Verdict would be quashed in the absence of all appropriate efforts to obtain relevant and necessary medical records. The relief sought would be granted and a further inquest would be directed.

Reporter: E.F.

1

JUDGMENT of Kearns P. delivered the 20th day of May 2010

BACKGROUND
2

The applicants are the parents of the late Pierre Christian Lawlor, a self employed bathroom tiler, who was born in 1973 and who died at the age of 34 whilst undergoing elective cosmetic surgery in a hospital in Bogota, Colombia on 3 rd September 2007. He had travelled to Colombia from Ireland with his Venezuelan born wife, Andrea Galeano, now aged 26, whom he had met over the internet and to whom he was married in a Dublin registry office on 7 December, 2006. They had one child, a son, Zachary, born on 27 December, 2006. Thereafter they lived in Stepaside, Co. Dublin. It is clear from the affidavit sworn on behalf of the applicants that the marriage was not without its difficulties. There were frequent arguments. It was also the case that the deceased was intensely pre-occupied about his physical appearance and was anxious to have cosmetic surgery. While on holidays to visit his wife's family in Columbia in August, 2007, the deceased arranged to have extensive cosmetic surgery carried out to his eyes, cheeks, neck and nose. He also wanted liposuction. According to the deposition statement made by his wife, the deceased, in spite of being told not to drink in advance of his operation or take a steroid drug he was using for a condition on his hands, ingested both alcohol and cocaine in the course of the weekend prior to his surgery. The surgery had been arranged to take place in the Centro Colomblade Cirujin Plastica in Bogota on the following Monday. On that Monday it appears that the deceased, towards the end of a lengthy operation, suffered a number of heart attacks resulting in his death on the same day. The body of the deceased was repatriated to Ireland on 19 th September 2007 and a post-mortem was conducted two days later by Professor Marie Cassidy, State Pathologist.

3

The respondent is the Coroner for County Dublin with public law functions in relation to the conduct of inquests pursuant to the provisions of the Coroners Act 1962, including, inter alia, the duty of hold an inquest in relation to the death of the late Christian Lawlor. The Coroner has statutory powers to return a verdict specifying how a death occurred and to make recommendations of a general character designed to prevent further fatalities which may be appended to the verdict at any inquest. He derives jurisdiction from statute, the common law and the Constitution. The principle domestic legislative provisions are contained in the Coroners Acts 1962 - 2005.

4

The applicants obtained leave to apply for judicial review on 27 th August 2008. The principal relief sought is an Order for certiorari quashing the decision of the respondent to refuse their application for adjournment of the Inquest into their son's death in circumstances where they say the respondent acted unreasonably in concluding the Inquest without having had the benefit of the hospital notes relevant to the deceased's treatment in Colombia, particularly where all efforts to obtain those notes had not been exhausted. As evidence of the fact that it would have been possible for the Coroner to obtain the notes or to have enabled the applicants to obtain them, they point to the fact that in the aftermath of the Inquest, the applicants themselves managed to secure the hospital notes within a short few weeks. The applicants have exhibited those notes, with expert medical commentary thereon, in making this application.

5

In addition to an order quashing the decision of the respondent to refuse their adjournment application, the applicants also seek an order quashing the decision of the respondent to record an Open Verdict in the absence of all appropriate efforts to obtain the relevant and necessary medical records.

6

The grounds upon which judicial review is sought are that the decision of the respondent to refuse to accede to the application for an adjournment was unreasonable in law and constituted a breach of fundamental fairness and of their rights under the Constitution and under the European Convention on Human Rights to effectively participate in the Inquest as the Deceased's next of kin.

THE FACTS
7

An Inquest into the death of the late Christian Lawlor was convened and concluded on 1 st July 2008. The applicants were legally represented at the hearing by their solicitor, Mr. James McGuill. Witnesses were deposed and were subject to examination by Mr. McGuill.

8

Professor Marie Cassidy in her evidence offered the opinion that the deceased appeared to have died following extensive plastic surgery, including facial cosmetic surgery and liposuction. The post mortem examination confirmed that surgery had taken place and that there were no obvious acute complications. Professor Cassidy went through her findings upon examination of the internal organs and explained that this had shown dilation of the heart and evidence of heart failure with oedema of the lungs. In the absence of an underlying condition this may have been due to the stress and strain of lengthy surgery.

9

Professor Cassidy then made the point that liposuction can be associated with heart failure if excessive amounts of fat are withdrawn from the body. She expressed the view that there was no way of knowing how much fat had been removed from the Deceased's body unless the operation notes were made available. She further made the point that the operation notes could reveal the Deceased's clinical condition prior to and during surgery and possibly a cause of sudden deterioration and death. She said that in the absence of those notes, she could not give a definite opinion as to the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Lawlor, that is to say, whether it was a natural death as opposed to a medical incident leading to death.

10

As the hospital records identified by Professor Cassidy's report as necessary for a meaningful enquiry had not been obtained, an application for an adjournment was made on behalf of the applicants given that, in their view, all attempts to procure these records had not been exhausted. In particular, no attempt was made to procure the records for the purpose of the Inquest as opposed to a prosecution and no attempt had been made to seek consular assistance. It was argued that an adjournment was necessary in those circumstances.

11

However, the application for an adjournment was refused and the respondent proceeded to conduct the Inquest. He recorded an Open Verdict in respect of the death by Order dated 1 st July 2008 and stated that he was doing so due to "the absence of information" having apparently concluded that the information could not be obtained. The injury or disease causing death is recited in the Verdict as being cardiac failure due to prolonged surgery.

12

In the aftermath of the inquest, the applicants succeeded in procuring the hospital records pertaining to their son's death through diplomatic channels. On the basis of the information obtained, the applicants have secured several expert reports...

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