The Government does not possess the political will to protect vulnerable homeowners from so-called vulture funds, it is claimed. The comments from the Opposition came after the master of the High Court said any judge who knowingly favours banks in litigation “should resign”.
Edmund Honohan observed that, following two recent Supreme Court judgments, “it is going to be more difficult for a vulture fund to get summary judgment, even in an uncontested case”.
Mr Honohan said it is hard for judges, given recent banking scandals, to view bank records “without suspicion”.
He was speaking yesterday when dismissing a fund’s uncontested application for liberty to enter final judgment against a woman for about €944,550, including interest. The woman did not appear in the master’s court and was not represented. In his written decision, Mr Honohan emphasised that “any” outcome in the master’s court “is ‘check’ and not ‘checkmate’” and not final unless a plaintiff so chooses.
Noting there are now more claims for judgment by assignees of original lenders than by the original lenders, he said an assignee plaintiff cannot lay claim to the “same historically uncritical acceptance of accounts statements and business records as a bank” as they have “bought an IOU”.
Vulture fund plaintiffs need not come to court expecting the judge to rubber-stamp the IOUs. They may not be worth the paper they’re written on.
It is “not correct”, just because an assignee can apply to be substituted as plaintiff, that their title or ownership of the debt has been accepted by the court. “Vulture fund cases need detailed examination,” he said.
In an appendix to his decision, he set out a “checklist” of 35 points for judges to address when dealing with uncontested summary judgment applications.
Having referred to several banking scandals, he said what is common to all of those is “the vehemence with which bank officials try to defend”.
“This is banking ‘culture’. It starts with bonuses and ends in disinformation,” he said. “The age of innocence is over. Banks’ affidavits have fallen from grace. They no longer enjoy any presumption of accuracy. Justice now requires scepticism,” he said.
From next Monday, Mr Justice David Barniville will deal with such cases but Mr Honohan will continue to deal with debt cases initiated before the direction. Reacting to his comments, opposition TDs have called on the Government and the judiciary to act to protect the rights of borrowers against the banks.
The chair of the Oireachtas finance committee, John McGuinness, said he fully supported Mr Honohan’s comments, saying he has set down the playbook for other judges to follow.
“I fully support him. He has set out exactly what other judges must do. They should challenge the banks on their paperwork. Other judges need to be as vigilant about the rights of the borrower as they are of the rights of the banks,” he said.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said Mr Honohan has been proven to be correct in all of his pronouncements as to the maltreatment of homeowners. Speaking to the Irish Examiner, he said: “Sadly, the political will is not there to protect homeowners. Just look at the repeated attempts to block Pearse Doherty’s bill on the Central Bank powers.”