Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Ann O'Loughlin

Personal injuries lawyers have been told that only urgent actions can go to hearing before the High Court during the third Covid lockdown.

The judge in charge of the personal injuries list, Mr Justice Kevin Cross, at the Four Courts today told lawyers urgent cases are not necessarily confined to those involving litigants with life threatening issues, but it can also include personal and economic hardship.

The courts, Mr Justice Cross said “are open” during the Level 5 lockdown, but lawyers must show the court personal injuries actions are urgent before they are allowed to go to hearing.

If a case does not comply with the urgent criteria, Mr Justice Cross said it won’t get a hearing and at a remote call of the personal injuries list, he stated actions regarded as urgent does not include cases where the parties are anxious to proceed.

Apply in advance

Lawyers must now also apply to the court in advance to assess whether a case is urgent and needs an early hearing date. Already, there are nearly fifty cases listed before the busy High Court for the rest of January and sixteen of those have been specially fixed which means they would usually get priority when cases are being assigned to a judge.

The decision to prioritise urgent cases came after a direction from High Court President Ms Justice Mary Irvine that routine personal injuries cases will not be heard until further notice. Cases will continue to be listed and a remote call over will take place three times each day in the expectation that the vast majority of cases will settle after negotiation between the parties.

Any routine personal injury action which remains on the list and is not settled will be adjourned in to the general list rather than running over in to the next day as was the practice.

CervicalCheck cases

During the first lockdown, the backlog of unheard personal injury actions ran to 300, but the court had cut this significantly with extra sittings in September. Among the cases listed to go ahead this month are cases relating to the CervicalCheck controversy, including that of 32-year-old mother of two Lynsey Bennett who is seriously ill with cancer.

Ms Bennett launched a High Court action last April over the alleged misinterpretation of her cervical smear slides taken under the national screening programme.
Ms Bennett is set to have her case heard next week. It is not clear yet if a full remote hearing of the case will be set up or if a physical hearing where parties adhere to Covid 19 social distancing regulations will be set up.

Four legal teams are involved in the case. Lynsey Bennett, Ennybegs, Killoe, Co Longford has sued the HSE, Irish testing laboratory, Eurofins Biomnis Ireland Ltd, Sandyford Industrial Estate, Dublin and US laboratory Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, New Jersey.

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