High Court reporters
The High Court has made an order that will see judgment in default granted against 29 members of the Christian Brothers next month unless they formally appear in the proceedings brought by a man seeking damages from the congregation for historical sex abuse.
Mr Justice Tony O’Connor granted the ‘unless’ order on Wednesday against the 29 Christian Brothers, giving them until June 20th to enter an appearance or attend in court when the case returns on that date to avoid judgment.
The abuser, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has pleaded guilty in the criminal courts to sexually assaulting the plaintiff.
However, the civil action against members of the congregation, initiated four years ago, has been complicated by the legal strategy being adopted by the Christian Brothers.
The congregation has declined to put forward a nominee to be sued on its behalf. Most congregations defending such proceedings provide a nominee, although they are not obliged to do so.
If a congregation does not put forward a nominee, a plaintiff has to sue all of the members of the congregation at the time of the event for which damages are being sought.
In September 2021, the plaintiff got an order that the congregation provide the names and address of all of its members on dates between 1979 and 1984. Earlier this year he got another order, adding 118 new defendants to the case.
Judgment in default
On Wednesday, the judge said his new orders, granting judgment in default of appearance against 29 of the brothers, will take effect on June 20th if they do not enter an appearance by 10.30am on that date.
The plaintiff’s senior counsel, John Gordon, instructed by Coleman Legal, said they will move motions on the next date seeking judgment in default against 65 other brothers, some of whom live abroad.
The court was told a solicitor at Frank Buttimer solicitors swore an affidavit on behalf of the head of the Christian Brothers in Ireland, Br David Gibson, who is one of the defendants in the case.
The solicitor said 13 of 14 deceased brothers have a provision in their wills leaving their estates to the order, the court heard.
Mr Gordon said it took a court order, which was resisted on behalf of Br Gibson, to learn that Br Gibson is the beneficiary of the assets of those 13 brothers.
“I’m not going to speculate as to why Br Gibson found it so difficult to give us this information,” Mr Gordon added.
The plaintiff received an unsworn motion, on behalf of Br Gibson, seeking a court order directing the plaintiff to engage in mediation with Br Gibson, counsel said, adding that such an application would be “misconceived as a matter of law”.
The plaintiff would be happy to enter talks with the Christian Brothers as a congregation, but he was not prepared to have the discussions with a “single man and a man of straw and no more”, Mr Gordon said.
Counsel for Br Gibson, Karl Finnegan, said there is a reality to the offer of mediation with Br Gibson. The plaintiff is entitled to object to the application, he added.
Mr Finnegan noted he and his instructing solicitors are not on record for the 29 defendants against whom the “unless” order was made.
The case was adjourned to next month.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800-77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help.
In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112.