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Government announces tribunal to deal with CervicalCheck claims

Justice Mary Irvine will chair of the tribunal.

A court cases taken by Vicky Phelan unearthed the CervicaCheck scandal.
A court cases taken by Vicky Phelan unearthed the CervicaCheck scandal.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Dec 19th 2018, 5:37 PM

THE GOVERNMENT IS to establish an independent statutory tribunal to deal with claims arising from the CervicalCheck scandal. 

The tribunal was announced this afternoon by Health Minister Simon Harris who said preparatory work would begin as soon as possible ahead of the establishment of the tribunal later in 2019.

The Department of Health said that the hearings would be heard in private and is to be established as a way of providing an alternative system for dealing with cases arising from CervicalCheck. 

The Cabinet has approved Ms Justice Mary Irvine as chair of the tribunal.

The establishment of the tribunal was one of the recommendations made by Justice Charles Meenan in a report into the appropriate response to the scandal. 

One of the recommendations was that a tribunal be established to so that claims could be resolved outside the court process. 

Meehan noted in his report that no matter what alternative system is proposed that legislation would be required. 

The report advised that the chair would be the sole member of the tribunal and would have the power to apportion liability, award damages and make orders for legal costs.

Participation in the tribunal is voluntary for all parties but it will have the power to order discovery, inspection and the attendance of witnesses. 

Meehan also advised that determinations made by the tribunal could be appealed to the High Court by way of a complete re-hearing. 

The department has confirmed this evening that this would be the case and said that such a re-hearing would also be held in private. 

The department has noted that the issue of liability is not straightforward to determine in CervicalCheck cases and that Judge Meehan a redress scheme based on “no fault” liability is not appropriate.

“The proposed tribunal must take into account the respective liability in each case, each person’s constitutional right of access to the courts and the constitutional right of the parties involved to fair procedures,” the department states. 

If liability is not contested in certain cases, they are to be fast-tracked by the tribunal.

Announcing the process, Minister Harris said it does not restrict the right of women and their family to give evidence in public in the High Court. 

“The tribunal will allow women to progress their cases in a timely and sensitive, less adversarial manner, while equally respecting the constitutional entitlement of all parties to a fair hearing,” the minister said. 

Harris is also understood to have written to the women involved to brief them in advance of the plans.

The minister also confirmed that he is to examine the early establishment of a non-statutory scheme to provide ex-gratia payments for the women affected by the non-disclosure of the CervicalCheck audit.

- With reporting by Christina Finn

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