In an address last month in Government Buildings (21st June), Attorney General Rossa Fanning SC said, “Given the high volume of litigation managed by the State, it is important that we explain the general approach and policy adopted by the State in this domain.”
The State Litigation Principles that will serve as guidelines in the conduct of litigation by the State have been approved by the Government. The 15 principles recognise the imperative that the State should act in the public interest in pursuing litigation and should consider the broader public interest before taking certain procedural steps in litigation.
Mr Fanning continued, “These principles will, for the first time, clearly articulate standards for the State and its lawyers in the conduct of legal proceedings. They will set out how the State can and should behave in its capacity as a litigant, as a party to a given dispute before the courts.” He said it is not intended to “radically change” how the State carried out legal proceedings, “The principles may best be described as a codification and public statement of existing best practice.”
The publication of the principles follows a recent High Court case against the HSE which a woman with cervical cancer had sought to have resolved before her death.
The woman has since died, with the HSE and laboratories refusing a plea to ensure that she would receive general damages after her death if the legal action had been successful.
The Attorney General said “fundamentally, litigation is expensive and time-consuming for all involved”. He said the principles explain how the State will take steps to “avoid, prevent and limit the scope” of any legal proceedings where possible. The new principles also call on the State to ensure that any legal case brought against it is dealt with “promptly, efficiently and at proportionate cost”. They also seek to “minimise legal costs for all parties” and to settle when necessary.
A Government spokesperson said that if the State is defending against multiple claims of the same or similar nature, it will try to identify a lead case to “facilitate the efficient and effective administration of justice”.
The principles do not prevent the State, in an appropriate case, contesting litigation, appealing a decision, settling cases with or without admissions of liability, asserting legal professional privilege and applying for recovery of State costs. Where litigation is pursued, the range of issues in dispute should be kept as narrow as possible. The State should not require an applicant to prove a matter which the State knows to be true or which the applicant is likely to succeed in proving at trial. That would assist the court in deciding the case and minimise the costs.
The full speech of the Attorney General can be found via the link below:
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