In a recent High Court judgment, the Court struck out a property developer’s claim that local objectors, who issued judicial review proceedings in response to planning permission granted to the developer for a strategic housing development, had committed the torts of maintenance and champerty.
‘Maintenance’ is the giving of assistance to a party in litigation by a third party who has no interest in that litigation, e.g. financial assistance.
‘Champerty’ is the giving of such assistance where the third party will receive a share of the litigation proceeds.
These proceedings were commenced after the developer became aware of a flyer circulated in the local community. This flyer sought contribution from third parties to the legal costs of the challenge to the developer’s planning permission.
The Court was satisfied that the developer’s claim was “bound to fail” – in other words, the Court determined that it was prepared to exercise its jurisdiction to strike out proceedings and refuse to hear a case where it considers that the arguments raised by an applicant clearly would not succeed. In this instance the Court therefore struck out the claim on the basis that the law of maintenance and champerty should be viewed in accordance with modern ideas of propriety and, even more importantly, in recognition of the fact that access to justice is a constitutional fundamental right. In her judgment Ms Justice Egan noted that the local community, to whom the flyer was directed, had a legitimate interest in the judicial review proceedings.
Ultimately, the Court found that as these proceedings were to be struck out as bound to fail, it was not necessary to consider the other grounds advanced by the defendants – namely that the proceedings were brought for an “improper purpose” and that the present proceedings, in addition to two other sets of related proceedings, were to be regarded as SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation).
For further information on this topic, please contact Alison Fanagan, Consultant, Síofra Heffernan, Lawyer, or any other member of A&L Goodbody’s Environmental and Planning team.