A tribunal to hear and determine claims from women and families impacted by the CervicalCheck scandal is to get Government sign-off today. The tribunal would be less adversarial and quicker and would mean that the 221 women involved and their families could avoid difficult and costly legal proceedings.
It comes as the State Claims Agency confirmed it is to appeal a High Court judgment which awarded €2.1m in damages to Ruth Morrissey, who is terminally ill with cervical cancer. Ms Morrissey and her husband Paul sued the HSE and two US laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Medlab Pathology Ltd, over an an alleged failure to correctly report her smear samples taken in 2009 and 2012.
The labs have already indicated that they will also be appealing the judgement. Health Minister Simon Harris will bring the heads of the bill to establish the alternative process for women affected by the CervicalCheck issues to Cabinet this morning.
The bill follows the recommendations of Mr Justice Charles Meenan and Mr Harris has already asked the Oireachtas Health Committee to waive their usual pre-legislative scrutiny of the legislation in a bid to speed up the process. The tribunal’s hearings, which will be chaired by Ms Justice Mary Irvine, will be held in private, unless the woman or the next of kin requests it to be held in public.
It will also facilitate restoration of trust meetings, to facilitate discussion and provision of information. These will allow the women, or their families to discuss their experiences in relation to CervicalCheck. However, families who were caught up in the smear test scandal can still take a court case and any details raised at the tribunal cannot be used in legal proceedings.
Separately, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan will bring forward amendments to Cabinet to broaden the scope of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill which could help to tackle insurance fraud. The bill, sponsored by senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, seeks to put perjury on a statutory footing. Perjury is currently a common law offence, rarely prosecuted.
It is intended that introducing a statutory offence will make the offence easier to prosecute. In particular, Mr Flanagan expects that these new provisions will be of assistance in dealing with cases of insurance fraud. Mr Flanagan’s amendments will broaden the scope of the bill to include commissions of investigation and tribunals of inquiry.
The minister also wants to put the penalties on par with largely similar offences in the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. This stipulates that a person who commits an offence is liable on summary conviction to a class B fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both,
This increases to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to both on conviction on indictment.