In a recent decision of the High Court in Grant & ors -v- The Minister for Communications & ors [2016] IEHC 328 it was held that the nature of the proceedings were not appropriate to be dealt with by way of mediation. The approach of both the High Court and Court of Appeal in Atlantic Shellfish Ltd. & Anor v The County Council of the County of Cork & Ors (“Atlantic Shellfish”) was followed in the determination of the matter.

Case

The plaintiffs (ship/boat operators) sought fifty reliefs against the defendants relating to applications for licenses, surveys, exemptions and other matters governed by various regulations. The plaintiffs alleged that decisions made by the defendants unlawfully or unjustly amounted to misfeasance in public office and/or a tort and/or a breach of the plaintiffs’ rights in law and/or constitutional rights and/or rights in European Law. The plaintiffs also alleged that the relevant EU Directive had not been transposed correctly into Irish law and there was a breach of the plaintiffs’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The proceedings had commenced in August 2003. The parties had made discovery and the action was ready to be set down for trial. At this point the plaintiffs wrote to the defendants inviting them to agree to refer the matter to mediation. The defendants refused the invitation. The plaintiffs subsequently issued the motion, the subject matter of the case, seeking an Order pursuant to Order 56A of the Rules of the Superior Courts that the matter be adjourned and the parties invited to use an ADR process to settle or determine the proceedings.

The plaintiffs sought this relief on the basis that there would be considerable saving of court time, costs and expenses. In addition, the parties would likely continue to have dealings with one another if matters could be resolved without the need to go to trial. The defendants objected as the claims made by the plaintiffs advanced very serious allegations against public officials. Also the proceedings seeking declaratory reliefs were likewise not appropriate to refer to mediation.

Decision

Ms Costello J referred to the decisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal in Atlantic Shellfish in her decision. She re-iterated that mediation is a two way process and that a party ought not to be forced to attend mediation.

She also referred to Irvine J’s statement in the Court of Appeal that a court should only exercise its discretion if it considers it “appropriate” to do so “having regard to all of the circumstances of the case”.

The relief sought was refused on the grounds that the multitude of complex issues involved in the proceedings were not amenable to mediation. It was found that the State defendants also had the right to refute the allegations of misfeasance of public office in court and provided the opportunity to be vindicated in public.

For a link to the full decision please click here.