Friday, November 04, 2022

High court reporters

A man who alleged solicitors for his ex-wife engaged in deceit during their divorce case should not have used information he obtained during the private proceedings to make a complaint to the gardaí and others, the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice Max Barrett prohibited the man from further disseminating materials and information garnered from the “in camera” (held in private) divorce proceedings.

He also ordered him to provide his ex-wife with a comprehensive list of all people and parties not connected with the divorce case to whom he had provided information.

Permission from court

The judge ruled that section 40 of the Courts and Civil Liability Act 2004 means that the permission of the court must first be obtained before documents or information garnered from in camera proceedings can be disclosed to third parties. The man had not obtained such permission.

The man was convinced the solicitors on the opposing side of his divorce case committed a criminal offence by engaging in a deceit in the course of those proceedings which resulted in him having to pay “heightened costs” for the case, the judge said.

The solicitors “vehemently denied” the allegations, the judge said, stressing there were to this time just allegations which he (judge) was not required to make any finding on. The judge also said he was not aware of the nature of the information the man released.

The man approached another solicitor about whether he had grounds to make a criminal complaint about his ex-wife’s solicitors.

He disclosed certain materials from the divorce proceedings to that solicitor who advised him he did have grounds for making such a complaint and in fact was obliged to do so.

He did so and he and his solicitor met with gardai who, it was claimed, requested and were given sight of certain information from the divorce.

Related complaints about the alleged deceit were also apparently made to a number of other bodies, including the DPP, Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and the Judicial Council, the judge said.

His ex-wife became aggrieved that the in camera material was disclosed to third parties without permission of the court.

She asked Mr Justice Barrett for orders preventing him from continuing to do so and to make him disclose what he had provided.

Her ex-husband contended her concerns were baseless and that the Courts and Civil Liability Act 2004 gave him a largely untrammelled right to disseminate the information.

Right to disseminate

He suggested that the Oireachatas, when passing that Act, “must have taken comfort” from the fact that if it was disclosed to the types of official bodies he had provided the information to, that it would be treated securely by those parties.

Mr Justice Barrett disagreed the Act gave a largely untrammelled right to disseminate such information without permission of the court.

He said the ex-husband had contended that this meant making a judge “the arbiter of what evidence might be released in the context of a criminal complaint”.

The judge said it might, but he could see no inherent problem in that. A judge may perfectly legitimately decide, for example, that information concerning someone’s sexual history should not be released as part of an in camera hearing where a fraud complaint is made, he said.

He found there was nothing in the 2004 Act that varied or removed the traditional rule as regards obtaining permission of the courts when it came to disclosing information obtained from in camera proceedings to third parties.

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