Pharmaceutical assistants have brought a High Court challenge to proposed new rules restricting the amount of time they can cover for a temporarily absent pharmacist to one hour per day.
The Pharmaceutical Assistants Association Company and four women pharmaceutical assistants have brought the case against the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI), the Minister for Health and the State.
Some 248 women, mostly in their late 50s with an average of 35 years experience, say their livelihoods as assistants will be seriously affected or lost if the new rules are approved by the Minister. That approval is on hold pending determination of the High Court action.
They have brought the court challenge on a number of grounds including alleged breach of their constitutional and European Convention rights to a livelihood.
The PSI approved the draft rules following a public consultation process limiting cover by assistants for the temporary absence of the pharmacist to just one hour per day.
Under a previous agreement, assistants are entitled to cover short absence such as lunch hour, two half days or one day per week as well as unscheduled short absences and the standard annual leave of the pharmacist, not exceeding 14 days in any single absence.
In a preliminary application, the Minister and the State asked the High Court to order that the hearing of the assistants' case be run as a split trial. Issues of administrative law would be dealt with first followed by constitutional/convention issues, the State parties argued. The assistants opposed the application
Mr Justice Anthony Barr refused the Minister's application as he was not satisfied the Minister had set out good enough reasons in practice why it should occur in this case.
"It seems to me that it would be a much better use of time and money to have all the issues argued at the one hearing, rather than having the administrative law issues determined first and then possibly having another full-blown hearing a number of months later on the constitutional issues."
He also said the court must have regard to the circumstances of the applicants who were by and large women over the age of 55 who brought the action because the draft rules will have a very severe impact on their incomes.
"For these ladies to face the prospect of having to mount not one, but two judicial review proceedings before the High Court, would run the risk that they may be financially deterred from pursuing their claim before the court", he said. Justice and logic weighed in favour of the case proceeding as a unitary hearing, he said.