Country
Ireland
Sources
InforMEA
Tagging
Evidence, Inspections, Constitutional, Civil, Jurisdiction, Property, Taxation, Permits
Abstract
A site belonging to the fifth defendant was declared by the minister of the environment to be a "designated area" under s 6 of the Urban Renewal Act, 1986. As a result of this decision certain economic and fiscal advantages accrued to the fifth defendant. The plaintiffs, who were property development companies, sought a declaration that the decision was ultra vires and contrary to the purposes of the Act of 1986 on the grounds, that the decision was reached on inappropriate criteria or on a consideration of incorrect or insufficient materialThe plaintiffs sought discovery of Government documents and other cabinet documents in the course of their challenge. They complained that the minister had improperly designated certain building sites. As in the Murphy case, the defendants sought to claim “class privilege” on the grounds that they “…could prejudice the collective responsibility of the Government. The High Court ordered discovery of documents and memoranda which had come into existence for the purpose of reaching the challenged decision. The court stated that if such a claim to privilege were to be accepted, the individual citizen would be denied the right to challenge a decision of a minister, because of insufficient supportive material. The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the High Court had erred in holding that the documents were not subject to the privilege. The defendants submitted that the documents, which emanated from a senior level of the public service and which were intended for Ministerial consideration, related to the formulation of policy and legislative proposals and belonged to a class of documents which were absolutely privileged and which did not require to be examined by the trial judge. They also argued that a heavy onus of proof lay on the party seeking production of such documents to establish exceptional circumstances before the claim to privilege should be disallowed. The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal, but varying the order of the High Court. It held yhat the law relating to claims of executive privilege on the grounds of public interest was correctly stated in Murphy v Corporation of Dublin [1972]; that, under the Constitution of Ireland, 1937, the administration of justice was committed solely to the courts and, therefore, any conflict between the public interest in the production of evidence and the public interest in the confidentiality of documents relating to the exercise of the executive power fell to be decided by the courts. Where there is a conflict over the production of documents, it is the public interest that will prevail if such documents are deemed as necessary. Furthermore, there cannot be any particular class of document exempt from court summons, save in rare circumstances where documents sought implicate national security or other paramount interests; that the Executive could not prevent the courts from examining documents relevant to any issue in a civil trial for the purpose of deciding if they should be produced in evidence but that there was no obligation on the courts to examine any document and a claim of privilege could be upheld by the courts merely on the basis of a description of the nature or contents of a document; that no class of document was exempt from production by reason of the rank of the public servant creating it or the identity of the person for whom it was intended; that, once a court was satisfied that a document was relevant, the onus of proof lay on the party claiming the privilege to show why it should not be produced in evidence; that the ability of an individual to exercise his right to challenge decisions of the Government was dependant on his right to avail of court procedures including those relating to discovery; that any party to an action who obtains production of documents by discovery was prohibited from making use of those documents except for the purposes of that action and it was an inherent jurisdiction of the courts to regulate the production of documents to prevent the infringement of this restriction; that, consequently, those documents which constituted representations made by third parties to the government in the belief that such correspondence was confidential would be disclosed to the lawyers acting on behalf of the plaintiffs only on the undertaking that they would not reveal their contents to their clients without special leave of the trial court.