Today´s High Court Judgment
The Tribunal is an independent statutory body established under the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Act, 1997. The Minister has no function in the Tribunal´s procedural arrangements or the making of its awards. The Act protects the confidentiality of claimants before the Tribunal, and the Tribunal conducts its business in private. The Minister said that “it is a fundamental wish of the claimants before the Tribunal to retain confidentiality, which must be fully respected. This is a central objective of the 1997 Act and is in the best interests of client confidentiality.”
Under the Act, a claimant has one month to accept an award, or reject the award and appeal to the High Court. In these two cases, the claimants accepted their award. When a claimant accepts an award of the Tribunal, they waive their right of appeal to the High Court. In these cases, the waivers were signed and the awards were duly paid. Both recipients subsequently appealed, and were advised by the Tribunal that as they had accepted their awards they had no further right of appeal.
This information was considered to be private, and was not made available by the Tribunal to the Minister, who is the respondent in these appeals, or to the High Court. The High Court increased the awards, and this decision was confirmed by today’s Judgement.
A key determinant in today´s decision was the failure of the Tribunal to notify the Minister that the claimants had accepted their awards. The Minister is of the view that communication between the Tribunal and the solicitors was entirely private, and should not be communicated to him or any relevant officials. The Minister said “In view of the criticisms in the Judgment, the Judgment has been referred to the Compensation Tribunal for their observations”. The Minister is also examining the Judgment.