A secondary school student has had his High Court legal
action thrown out by the Judge.
The background is the student was suspended from a secondary
school over the allegation that he had sold €20 worth of cannabis in the
school. The student admitted using the cannabis which was found in his
schoolbag on the school premises.
He denied, however, he was involved in supplying the drug.
His application to the High Court was grounded on his
assertion that the decision which would be arrived at as part of the
disciplinary procedure was contaminated and prejudged as he claimed the school
principal had contaminated the process by reason of his making findings of fact
as part of the investigation stage.
He also alleged he would not be able to challenge the
evidence against him at the proposed disciplinary hearing held by the board of
management of the school and claimed an absence of fair procedures to date.
The Judge did not agree.
The Judge in this High Court application said the application
was premature and came nowhere near meeting the threshold for court
Justice Simons pointed to the fact that the school
disciplinary process had not yet been completed and even when it was completed
there was a statutory appeal process open to the student pursuant to section
29 of the Education Act, 1998.
This section 29 appeal involves a full hearing of the case
on its merits before a committee of 3 persons appointed by the Department of
Education. This should be availed of before heading off to the High Court, said
The Judge stated that availing of these procedures would be
cheaper and faster than going to the High Court and rejected the student’s
application to judicially review the proposed disciplinary process. Justice
Simons commented that this application could cost six figures in legal costs.
Interestingly Justice Simons also commented that school boards
would be very slow to expel students if they are exposed to significant legal
costs, even if they won their case, and a decision by him to grant the
application wold have a ‘chilling effect’ on school boards of management.
In summary, the Judge said this application was premature
and the student should have availed of the cheaper and faster procedures open
to him rather than going to the High Court to try to halt the disciplinary.
Choosing which Court to pursue your legal proceedings in is an important decision with a potentially costly outcome if you pursue your cause of action in the wrong Court. Two recent cases illustrate this:
Moin -v- Sicika and
O’Malley -v- McEvoy
Two personal injuries cases were brought in the High Court but the awards were within the Circuit Court scale. The plaintiff was awarded costs on the Circuit Court scale but the Judge refused the defendant’s request for a differential costs order.
The defendant appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal and succeeded in getting a differential costs order.
This order allows the Judge who makes the award of damages to the plaintiff on the lower court scale to order that the plaintiff pay the difference between the costs actually incurred by the defendant and those that would have been incurred if the case was brought in the correct court.
The Judge can measure these costs or order that they be taxed and the differential costs provision also provides for a set-off against the plaintiff’s costs.
“Limitation on amount of plaintiff’s costs in certain proceedings.
17.—(1) Where an order is made by a court in favour of the plaintiff or applicant in any proceedings (other than an action specified in subsections (2) and (3) of this section) and the court is not the lowest court having jurisdiction to make an order granting the relief the subject of the order, the plaintiff shall not be entitled to recover more costs than he would have been entitled to recover if the proceedings had been commenced and determined in the said lowest court.
(2) In any action commenced and determined in the High Court, being an action where the amount of damages recovered by the plaintiff exceeds £25,000 but does not exceed £30,000, the plaintiff shall not be entitled to recover more costs than he would have been entitled to recover if the proceedings had been commenced and determined in the Circuit Court, unless the judge hearing the action grants a special certificate, for reasons stated in the order, that, in the opinion of such judge, it was reasonable in the interests of justice generally, owing to the exceptional nature of the proceedings or any question of law contained therein, that the proceedings should have been commenced and determined in the High Court.
(3) In any action commenced and determined in the High Court, being an action where the amount of the damages recovered by the plaintiff exceeds £5,000 but does not exceed £15,000, the plaintiff shall not be entitled to recover more costs than whichever of the following amounts is the lesser, that is to say, the amount of such damages or the amount of costs which he would have been entitled to recover if the action had been commenced and determined in the Circuit Court.
(4) It shall not be lawful for rules of court to contain or impose any restriction on the amount of costs recoverable by any party from any other party in any action or other proceeding, but nothing in this subsection shall prevent the insertion in rules of court of a restriction on the amount of the costs recoverable which is identical with a restriction imposed by this section nor the fixing by rules of court of the amount recoverable by any person as and for the costs and expenses incurred by him in the doing of any specified thing in any particular form of action or other proceeding.
(5) (a) Where an order is made by a court in favour of the plaintiff or applicant in any proceedings (not being an appeal) and the court is not the lowest court having jurisdiction to make an order granting the relief the subject of the order, the judge concerned may, if in all the circumstances he thinks it appropriate to do so, make an order for the payment to the defendant or respondent in the proceedings by the plaintiff or applicant of an amount not exceeding whichever of the following the judge considers appropriate:
(i) the amount, measured by the judge, of the additional costs as between party and party incurred in the proceedings by the defendant or respondent by reason of the fact that the proceedings were not commenced and determined in the said lowest court, or
(ii) an amount equal to the difference between—
(I) the amount of the costs as between party and party incurred in the proceedings by the defendant or respondent as taxed by a Taxing Master of the High Court or, if the proceedings were heard and determined in the Circuit Court, the appropriate county registrar, and
(II) the amount of the costs as between party and party incurred in the proceedings by the defendant or respondent as taxed by a Taxing Master of the High Court or, if the proceedings were heard and determined in the Circuit Court, the appropriate county registrar on a scale that he considers would have been appropriate if the proceedings had been heard and determined in the said lowest court.
(b) A person who has been awarded costs under paragraph (a) of this subsection may, without prejudice to his right to recover the costs from the person against whom they were awarded, set off the whole or part thereof against any costs in the proceedings concerned awarded to the latter person against the first-mentioned person.
(6) In this section ‘relief’ includes damages.”.
The Court of Appeal held that it was incumbent upon a Judge where an award is made on the lower court scale to make a differential costs order unless there is a good reason for not doing so.
The Court of Appeal also noted it is necessary for the Plaintiff to pursue his case in the lowest court that can award what is reasonable in the circumstances of the case and if he does not do so then there is a serious costs risk.
In these cases the defendant had written to the Plaintiffs telling them that they believed the correct Court for the case was the Circuit Court and they would seek a differential costs order under under s. 17(5) of the Act of 1981 if the Plaintiff succeeded with his claim.
Has the danger passed? Are you just keeping the head down and hoping for the best?
Are you in a good place with respect to compliance or do you still have some concerns but hope the fears generated were exaggerated?
Just to remind you new regulations concerning personal data protection came into force in the EU from 25th May, 2015: the GDPR regulations.
What has happened since then? Was the fear and loathing justified? Was it another “Y2K” scare-all hat and no cattle-or is it too early to decide?
Firstly, GDPR came into effect in Ireland 24 hours after the commencement of a new data protection act, the Data Protection Act, 2018. There is a certain degree of trepidation amongst data controllers and processors that this new law will lead to a significant increase in the number of legal cases arising as a result of breaches for the law now allows data subjects bring civil actions for compensation.
Data subjects can also now authorise not for profit organisations to bring complaints and act on their behalf. This kind of “class” action is a new development in Ireland and is likely to be availed of when there is a significant breach of personal data on a wide scale affecting a large number of individuals.
Two of these not for profit type organisations, NOYB (‘None of Your Business’) in Austria and La Quadrature du Net (‘La Quad’) filed complaints in some European countries against large tech companies within a short time of GDPR coming into effect. There is nothing stopping them from popping up in Ireland.
Right to Compensation and Damage
The right to compensation and damage is set out in regulation 82 which states,
Right to compensation and liability
1. Any person who has suffered material or non-material damage as a result of an infringement of this Regulation shall have the right to receive compensation from the controller or processor for the damage suffered.
2. Any controller involved in processing shall be liable for the damage caused by processing which infringes this Regulation. A processor shall be liable for the damage caused by processing only where it has not complied with obligations of this Regulation specifically directed to processors or where it has acted outside or contrary to lawful instructions of the controller.
3. A controller or processor shall be exempt from liability under paragraph 2 if it proves that it is not in any way responsible for the event giving rise to the damage.
4. Where more than one controller or processor, or both a controller and a processor, are involved in the same processing and where they are, under paragraphs 2 and 3, responsible for any damage caused by processing, each controller or processor shall be held liable for the entire damage in order to ensure effective compensation of the data subject.
5. Where a controller or processor has, in accordance with paragraph 4, paid full compensation for the damage suffered, that controller or processor shall be entitled to claim back from the other controllers or processors involved in the same processing that part of the compensation corresponding to their part of responsibility for the damage, in accordance with the conditions set out in paragraph 2.
6. Court proceedings for exercising the right to receive compensation shall be brought before the courts competent under the law of the Member State referred to in Article 79(2).
The game changer in this regulations is the reference in subsection 1 to “material or non-material damage”.
Up to this point you had to show you had suffered actual loss or damage in Ireland to be compensated, but you could not be compensated for non-material damage.
You will also see that subsection 1 refers to “controller or processor”. Prior to this only the controller could be held liable but now a processor can be also named as a defendant.
Article 78 sets out the right of the data subject to sue-that is, a judicial remedy. It states,
Right to an effective judicial remedy against a supervisory authority
1. Without prejudice to any other administrative or non-judicial remedy, each natural or legal person shall have the right to an effective judicial remedy against a legally binding decision of a supervisory authority concerning them.
2. Without prejudice to any other administrative or non-judicial remedy, each data subject shall have the right to a an effective judicial remedy where the supervisory authority which is competent pursuant to Articles 55 and 56 does not handle a complaint or does not inform the data subject within three months on the progress or outcome of the complaint lodged pursuant to Article 77.
3. Proceedings against a supervisory authority shall be brought before the courts of the Member State where the supervisory authority is established.
4. Where proceedings are brought against a decision of a supervisory authority which was preceded by an opinion or a decision of the Board in the consistency mechanism, the supervisory authority shall forward that opinion or decision to the court.
This right to bring a data protection action in Ireland is set out in section 117 of Data Protection act, 2018. This action is founded on tort-that is, a civil wrong, and can be instituted in the Circuit Court or High Court.
Section 117 obliges the plaintiff data subject to prove that
his or her rights under a relevant enactment have been infringed as a result of the processing of his or her personal data in a manner that fails to comply with a relevant enactment
The critical change now is a data subject can sue for material and non material damage and non material damage is set out in recital 85 as follows:
A personal data breach may, if not addressed in an appropriate and timely manner, result in physical, material or non-material damage to natural persons such as loss of control over their personal data or limitation of their rights, discrimination, identity theft or fraud, financial loss, unauthorised reversal of pseudonymisation, damage to reputation, loss of confidentiality of personal data protected by professional secrecy or any other significant economic or social disadvantage to the natural person concerned
You will see from regulation 82 above, section 2, that the controller and processor will be held liable where they are not compliant with the regulations; it is irrelevant whether they were negligent or at fault in any way.
How much compensation?
It is too early to say what level of compensation Irish courts will award, especially for non material damage such as damage to reputation or unauthorised reversal of pseudonymisation or loss of confidentiality.
Clearly, from the perspective of a controller or processor the smart thing to do is try to ensure that there is no breach of personal data rights in the first place. However, it is vital that a breach is notified to the Data Protection Commissioner within 72 hours of becoming aware of the breach as the Act refers to doing so “without undue delay”.
The facts of the case- O’Reilly & anor -v- Neville & ors
The case involved Mr. and Mrs. O’Reilly suing the defendants for breach of contract arising from defects in a dwellinghouse purchased by the O’Reillys from the defendants. J. Binchy, in relation to the substantive action, held as follows:
In summary, I made an order for specific performance, in favour of the plaintiffs of a building agreement entered into between the parties on 30th March, 2005 (the “building agreement”), and I also ordered that the defendants pay the plaintiffs the cost of renting alternative accommodation since they vacated, in August, 2010, the dwellinghouse constructed for them by the defendants pursuant to the building agreement.
However, he held over the questions of costs until a later date, and delivered his judgment on 18/01/2018.
(3) The costs of every action, question, or issue tried by a jury shall follow the event unless the Court, for special cause, to be mentioned in the order, shall otherwise direct.
The O’Reillys naturally argued that they were entitled to have their costs awarded to them against the defendants. However, the Judge can consider offers made by the defendant to try to settle the case early as Order 99 rule 1A.(1)(b) states:
(b) The High Court, in considering the awarding of the costs of any action (other than an action in respect of a claim or counterclaim concerning which a lodgment or tender offer in lieu of lodgment may be made in accordance with Order 22) or any application in such an action, may, where it considers it just, have regard to the terms of any offer in writing sent by any party to any other party or parties offering to satisfy the whole or part of that other party’s (or those other parties’) claim, counterclaim or application.
In this case the defendants made 6 open offers in an attempt to settle the case and avoid the costs of a hearing which ultimately went on for 11 days. The Defendants argued that these offers should be taken into account by J. Binchy when deciding costs. Mr. Justice Binchy agreed.
He decided, It follows from this that the defendants should be awarded all costs incurred by them in these proceedings from 18th February 2016 onwards, save only those costs that were incurred in connection with the claim of the plaintiffs for reimbursement of the cost of renting alternative accommodation. The plaintiffs are entitled to an order for all other costs incurred by them in the proceedings i.e. all costs incurred by them up to 18th February, 2016, together with such costs as may be deemed to relate only to recovering the cost of renting alternative accommodation.
He also held: Parties to proceedings are to be encouraged and not discouraged from putting forward proposals which will lead to an early resolution of litigation with all attendant benefits, including significant savings of costs and court time. All of this is recognised by O 99, r 1 A (1) of the Rules of the Superior Courts.
The successful party in legal proceedings cannot always assume he will be awarded his costs as against the other party, particularly if he refuses reasonable efforts to compromise the case.
The Rules of the Superior Courts make provision for this and the High Court judges must have regard for these rules and the conduct of the parties to the proceedings.
From time to time I am approached by a potential client who wants to ‘build a case’ against their former employer. Or against a competitor, or neighbour, or business rival.
Or against some guy or girl who caused offence at one time or other, just to ‘teach them a lesson’.
I quickly let the person know I have no interest in ‘building a case’, and advise them against it, too.
Let me tell you why.
If you have a valid legal claim or cause of action the ‘case/claim’ should be able to stand on its own two feet, without any requirement for ‘building’. To win a legal case you will need to do two things:
Prove the facts that support your case
Prove the law that supports your case
If you do not have facts that support a case from the outset all the building in the world will do you no good. You will be scrabbling around in desperation to try to cobble together some mish mash to get one over on your former employer, or the other party if it is not an employment related dispute. You would be far better off recognising that you are aggrieved, perhaps insensibly angry, and want to teach him/her a lesson.
But you run the risk of making an even bigger mess for yourself, and wasting time and money in the process if you embark on a course of ‘building a case’.
Look: when you are in a hole the first thing you need to do is put the goddamned shovel down.
Don’t misunderstand me. If you have a case a decent lawyer will recognise it very quickly.
What you need to do is give him/her the facts and relevant documentation surrounding your employment. Your solicitor will quickly recognise
Whether you have a cause of action
What the likelihood of success is
What the possible remedies are.
When you have this information you will be ready to make a cool, rational decision about proceeding or not.
‘Building a case’
Building a case is not like building a wall or a dog house. When you are building a wall and there are no blocks you can use bricks, or stones. Building a dog house can involve all sorts of alternative materials.
But a legal case or claim must stand on its own facts. You cannot make them up. You cannot have ‘alternative facts’ as the White House spokesperson claimed in relation to Trump’s vainglorious claim that his inauguration crowd was the biggest since the pan was sliced.
Alternative facts are an oxymoron-a contradiction in terms.
Neither can you have alternative law-there has either been a breach of the law, and a consequent breach of your rights, or not.
It doesn’t matter whether it is an employment matter, defamation, property dispute, personal injury, breach of constitutional right, probate dispute, a commercial dispute, or a family law row.
The facts are the facts and the law is the law. Sooner or later your ‘case’ is going to have to face these inescapable facts and you are going to have to discharge the burden of proof to win your case.
As Charles Dickens said in Hard Times,
“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”
I do not agree with this quotation, not in the slightest. Children should be taught much more than facts. Things like decency, honesty, kindness, generosity, an appreciation for beauty, art, literature, etc.
But when you are considering commencing legal proceedings or bringing an employment related claim you would do well to remember this quotation, for your case will walk slowly at first, and then run; or fall flat on its face.
Spend your time scrambling around in the weeds for stuff to ‘build a case’ and you will almost certainly fall.