On Friday 12 March 2021 Mr. Justice Richard Humphreys delivered a written judgment in respect of Brian Flannery, Jim Nolan and Patsy Kearns as Trustees of Kevin’s GAA ("the Applicants") v An Bord Pleanala ("the Board").

This matter arose from a Notice of Motion made by the Applicants - in ongoing proceedings challenging a Board decision - which sought to compel the Board to reply to interrogatories. Interrogatories are a series of questions which a litigant can require an opposing party to answer on oath. The two main purposes for raising interrogatories are to obtain information from the opposing party about the facts in dispute and/or to obtain admissions from the opposing party.

Background:

The Motion arose primarily in respect of an error in the Board's original decision granting planning permission. The error had been noticed and a memorandum from an official of the Board was prepared pointing out the error. At a further Board meeting, a direction was issued to correct what was described as a clerical error. The Board then made a formal decision under S.146A of the Planning and Development Act 2000 amending the prior order, although the amending decision did not refer to it being a clerical error.

The Applicants in this matter filed a statement of grounds in January 2020 with the primary relief sought being certiorari of the Board's decisions. A statement of opposition of the Board was filed in October 2020. The Applicants then sought interrogatories and ultimately issued this Motion.

Jurisprudence on Interrogatories:

In delivering his Judgment Humphreys J looked at the jurisprudence on allowing interrogatories. He noted that there has been inordinate emphasis in some of the jurisprudence on the particular method chosen to obtain information in litigation and stated one might even say that a dubious practice has developed of “sending the fool further”, whereby, whatever method is chosen, the other side will argue that some other method is more appropriate. Judge Humphreys noted that such arguments were not raised in this case.

Humphreys J referred to the approach taken in Armstrong v. Moffatt [2013] IEHC 148, [2013] 1 I.R. 417 and noted that a much more holistic approach is required when dealing with matters such as this and the real question that the court should ask itself is "what is most just and most likely to save time and costs overall?".

Humphreys J referred to the information sought in the extensive interrogatories sought by the Applicants here as amounting to asking whether the Board's deponent was speaking from his personal knowledge or whether he was speaking from a reading of the Board's file. He went on to note that the Court should look at whether the Applicant actually needed the information which was sought. Such information should be provided if it actually helps advance a point that properly arises in proceedings as they as they currently stand or as they could relevantly be amended following such disclosure.

Decision:

Humphreys J found that the Applicants in this case did not need the information sought for the reasons outlined below:

  1. The claim made in the statement of grounds could be evaluated on the papers.
  2. A clerical error had been made that did not require evidential clarification;
  3. Statements made in the statement of opposition as to a clerical error were being put forward as an obvious fact that did not require evidential clarification;

Judge Humphreys dismissed the Applicants' Motion and stated that there was no basis made out to furnish the information sought by the Applicants, whether by interrogatories or otherwise.

Analysis:

This Judgment is of interest to practitioners seeking and responding to interrogatories, showing a practical approach to the Armstrong v Moffatt jurisprudence.  It is also notable that Humphreys J referred to a Respondent's duty of candour in judicial review to give a true and comprehensive account of the decision making process and to assist the court with full and accurate explanations of all the facts relevant to the issues which the court must decide. This duty extends not just to points relevant on the pleadings as they stand, but also to points that could be pleaded if the Applicant knew about them.  However, it does not extend to points that are not even potentially relevant.  The Applicants here did not establish that the information sought fell into any relevant category.

*The written Judgment on this Motion can be found here.