High Court Dublin Abortion Ruling 23 December 2014
A three judge High Court will sit tomorrow to determine the fate of a young pregnant woman who has been deemed clinically dead but remains on life support.
The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, said today he will sit with Ms Justice Marie Baker and Ms Justice Caroline Costello from 10am tomorrow to determine all the issues arising from the application of the woman’s parents to be allowed have her life support turned off.
“Time is of the essence,” he said, adding it was important the courts should not be seen as “foreclosing” any options that may be available.
The woman, aged in her twenties, has been deemed clinically dead following a brain trauma. She is about 17 weeks pregnant and, based on legal advice arising from her pregnancy, remains on a life support in a hospital.
Her family’s action will proceed via plenary hearing under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court which means all the issues raised as a result of the family’s application can be determined. Proceedings to have the woman made a ward of court will be dealt with after the plenary action.
The judge was told the interests of the woman, of her parents, the unborn and the Health Service Executive (HSE) will all be separately represented.
In court today, there were three senior counsel, five junior counsel and five solicitors representing the various parties.
Mr Justice Kearns this afternoon convened the directions hearing to manage the case with a view to ensuring an outcome as speedily as possible. He recognised this was a matter of extreme urgency and also must involve great distress for the woman’s family, the judge observed.
He said he had decided the case should proceed as a plenary action because the wardship procedure was limited and the plenary hearing would allow the court deal with all issues with input from all the relevant parties.
Gerard Durcan SC, for the HSE, said his side agreed the plenary procedure was the most appropriate vehicle to deal with this difficult issue. His side would have a report from a consultant obstetrician and from a consultant in intensive care medicine as well as from a consultant neurologist, counsel said. There would also be reports from doctors involved in treating the woman in a hospital outside Dublin.
Copies of the relevant medical notes would be made available, he added.
Mr Justice Kearns said the court would particularly want evidence regarding the present state of the unborn child and the likely prognosis on the child, plus reports on the likely effect on the mother of prolonged somatic treatment.
He was told by Paul Anthony McDermott BL, for a Dublin hospital where the woman was treated from November until December 8th last a consultant neurosurgeon who had treated her had prepared a report for the court and was also available to give evidence.
John Rogers SC, for the woman’s father, said his side would call evidence from her family and would also call one, perhaps two, medical experts. It was also hoped there would be agreement on what central legal issues the court would have to determine.
Conor Dignam SC said he would be representing the interests of the unborn while another counsel, Donal O Muircheartaigh BL, said he was representing the interests of the mother. He had just been instructed at midday today, counsel added.
It is understood the father of the child is supportive of the mother’s family’s application.