Stephen Doyle v The Governor of Mountjoy Prison

CourtHigh Court
Docket Number2020 No. 214 CA
JudgeMr. Justice Garrett Simons
Judgment Date26 Mar 2021
JurisdictionIreland
Neutral Citation[2021] IEHC 176

[2021] IEHC 176

THE HIGH COURT

CIRCUIT APPEAL

2020 No. 214 CA

Between
Stephen Doyle
Plaintiff
and
The Governor of Mountjoy Prison
The Minister for Justice Equality and Defence
Ireland and The Attorney General
Defendants
Appearances

Noel McCarthy, SC and Martin Canny for the plaintiff instructed by Mark Killilea Solicitors (Galway)

Michael McCormack for the defendants instructed by Hayes Solicitors (Dublin)

Personal injuries – Inordinate and inexcusable delay – Balance of justice – Plaintiff appealing an order of the Circuit Court dismissing the proceedings on the grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay – Whether the balance of justice lay in favour of allowing the proceedings to go to full trial

Facts: The plaintiff, Mr Doyle (the injured party), sought damages arising out of injuries said to have been received while he was detained at Mountjoy Prison. Specifically, it was said that the injured party suffered lacerations caused by the sharp edge of a broken safety bar as he climbed down from his bunk bed. The incident occurred on 11 December 2011. The proceedings had not been brought on for hearing by 8 June 2020, at which stage the defendants, the Governor of Mountjoy Prison, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Ireland and the Attorney General, issued a motion seeking to dismiss the action. The injured party appealed to the High Court against an order of the Circuit Court dismissing the proceedings on the grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay. The principal issue for determination on the appeal was whether the balance of justice lay in favour of allowing the proceedings to go to full trial. The resolution of this issue turned, to a large extent, on whether the delay gave rise to a substantial risk of an unfair trial.

Held by Simons J that the balance of justice lay in favour of the injured party being allowed to pursue his proceedings to a full hearing. Simons J held that were the proceedings to be dismissed, this would have the effect of restricting the injured party’s right of access to the courts. Simons J held that this restriction would only be proportionate if necessary to vindicate the corresponding right of the defendants to defend the claim. Simons J held that this would be the position had the delay given rise to a substantial risk of an unfair trial, or was likely to cause serious prejudice to the defendants. Simons J held that the defendants had failed to put before the court any admissible evidence which would suggest that either of those contingencies arose.

Simons J held that the order of the Circuit Court dismissing the proceedings for inordinate and inexcusable delay would be set aside, subject to the caveat that if the injured party failed to serve a notice of trial within three months, the defendants had liberty to renew their application to dismiss the proceedings. Simons J held that the injured party was entitled to recover the costs of the motion to dismiss as against the defendants. Simons J held that the costs were to include the costs of the court below, and all reserved costs. Simons J held that the costs were to be adjudicated (measured) by the Office of the Chief Legal Costs Adjudicator in default of agreement. Simons J placed a stay on the execution of the costs order pending the determination of the entire proceedings.

Appeal allowed.

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Garrett Simons delivered on 26 March 2021

INTRODUCTION
1

This matter comes before the High Court by way of an appeal against an order of the Circuit Court dismissing these proceedings on the grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay. These proceedings take the form of personal injuries proceedings. The plaintiff (hereinafter “ the injured party”) seeks damages arising out of injuries said to have been received while he was detained at Mountjoy Prison. Specifically, it is said that the injured party suffered lacerations caused by the sharp edge of a broken safety bar as he climbed down from his bunk bed.

2

The incident occurred on 11 December 2011. The proceedings had still not been brought on for hearing by 8 June 2020, at which stage the defendants issued a motion seeking to dismiss the action.

3

The principal issue for determination on this appeal is whether the balance of justice lies in favour of allowing the proceedings to go to full trial. The resolution of this issue turns, to a large extent, on whether the delay gives rise to a substantial risk of an unfair trial.

CHRONOLOGY
4

The chronology of events is set out in tabular form below.

11 December 2011

Incident giving rise to personal injuries

20 March 2012

Injured party released from prison

13 June 2012

First letter of claim

21 June 2012

State Claims Agency seeks further details of claim

27 June 2012

Injured party's solicitors seek copy of accident report and inspection facilities

18 October 2013

Second letter of claim

22 October 2013

Application to Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB)

4 December 2013

PIAB issue authorisation

12 March 2014

Personal injury summons issued (Circuit Court)

11 April 2014

Summons served

26 June 2014

Appearance entered

7 July 2014

Notice for particulars

16 October 2014

Replies to particulars

30 January 2015

Second notice for particulars

19 March 2015

Defence

31 March 2015

Replies to particulars

8 August 2017

Voluntary discovery request

29 November 2017

Response to request for voluntary discovery

30 April 2020

Notice of intention to proceed served by defendants

11 May 2020

Notice of change of solicitor for plaintiff

8 June 2020

Motion to dismiss issues

LEGAL PRINCIPLES GOVERNING APPLICATION TO DISMISS
5

The principles governing an application to dismiss proceedings on the basis of inordinate and inexcusable delay are well established. The leading judgment remains that of the Supreme Court in Primor plc v. Stokes Kennedy Crowley [1996] 2 I.R. 459 (“ Primor”). The principles are summarised as follows (at pages 475/76 of the reported judgment).

“The principles of law relevant to the consideration of the issues raised in this appeal may be summarised as follows:—

  • (a) the courts have an inherent jurisdiction to control their own procedure and to dismiss a claim when the interests of justice require them to do so;

  • (b) it must, in the first instance, be established by the party seeking a dismissal of proceedings for want of prosecution on the ground of delay in the prosecution thereof, that the delay was inordinate and inexcusable;

  • (c) even where the delay has been both inordinate and inexcusable the court must exercise a judgment on whether, in its discretion, on the facts the balance of justice is in favour of or against the proceeding of the case;

  • (d) in considering this latter obligation the court is entitled to take into consideration and have regard to

    • (i) the implied constitutional principles of basic fairness of procedures,

    • (ii) whether the delay and consequent prejudice in the special facts of the case are such as to make it unfair to the defendant to allow the action to proceed and to make it just to strike out the plaintiff's action,

    • (iii) any delay on the part of the defendant — because litigation is a two party operation, the conduct of both parties should be looked at,

    • (iv) whether any delay or conduct of the defendant amounts to acquiescence on the part of the defendant in the plaintiff's delay,

    • (v) the fact that conduct by the defendant which induces the plaintiff to incur further expense in pursuing the action does not, in law, constitute an absolute bar preventing the defendant from obtaining a striking out order but is a relevant factor to be taken into account by the judge in exercising his discretion whether or not to strike out the claim, the weight to be attached to such conduct depending upon all the circumstances of the particular case,

    • (vi) whether the delay gives rise to a substantial risk that it is not possible to have a fair trial or is likely to cause or have caused serious prejudice to the defendant,

    • (vii) the fact that the prejudice to the defendant referred to in (vi) may arise in many ways and be other than that merely caused by the delay, including damage to a defendant's reputation and business.”

6

As appears, a court must consider three issues in sequence: (i) has there been inordinate delay; (ii) has the delay been inexcusable; and (iii) if the answer to the first two questions is positive, it then becomes necessary to consider whether the balance of justice is in favour of or against allowing the case to proceed. I address each of these in turn under separate headings below.

(I) WHETHER DELAY INORDINATE
7

The incident giving rise to these proceedings is said to have occurred on 11 December 2011. The injured party appears to have consulted his solicitor shortly after his release from prison in March 2012. The solicitor sent a letter of claim on 13 June 2012. The letter requested inspection facilities for the injured party's engineer. In a subsequent letter of 27 June 2012, a copy of the “accident report” was requested. The State Claims Agency replied on 11 July 2012 stating that the request for the accident report was a matter for discovery, and that inspection facilities for the engineer would be afforded at the “appropriate stage” in legal proceedings.

8

Thereafter, the first significant period of delay by the injured party occurred. No steps appear to have been taken between the date of the correspondence in June and July 2012, and the issuing of a (second) letter of claim on 18 October 2013.

9

At this stage, the two-year limitation period was close to expiry. An application was made to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, and the board subsequently declined to assess the claim and instead issued an authorisation to institute legal...

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