herald

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Swim coach sex abuse case ended by 13-year hold-up

A WOMAN who claimed she was sexually abused by swimming coach George Gibney 20 years ago cannot continue a civil action, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said a 13-year delay by the now 39-year-old woman in prosecuting her litigation would indirectly set "at naught" the legislative policy underpinning the Statute of Limitations which requires proceedings must be initiated within six years of the matter at issue.



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Mr Gibney, a former national and Olympic coach, won a judicial review in the High Court in 1994 stopping a prosecution against him for allegedly abusing swimmers between 1966 and 1982 on grounds of delay.

The woman in this case alleged she had been sexually assaulted by him in 1991 while on a training camp with her swimming club to Orlando in Florida.

She brought proceedings in 1997 against Mr Gibney, against the Irish Amateur Swimming Association Ltd (IASA) as well as against the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), alleging the sports bodies were negligent in their supervision of Mr Gibney and of the camp.

Mr Justice Hogan said for reasons "hard to fathom" nothing happened in relation to her proceedings for another 11 years and then in July 2009 another High Court judge, Mr Justice Michael Peart, granted the woman permission to renew the papers in the case for another six months.

As a result, the IASA took its own proceedings seeking to have the woman's case struck out because of inordinate delay while the OCI sought an order setting aside Mr Justice Peart's decision.

Mr Justice Hogan found in favour of both the IASA and the OCI saying there was inexcusable delay. He said whichever way one looks at the matter, it is plain that the prejudice which the IASA will suffer significantly outweighs that which would be visited upon the woman by reason of gross delay which she had not explained.

In relation to the OCI case, the judge said no steps were taken by the woman during an 11-year period to pursue her case.

While he could accept there may have been difficulties in serving proceedings on Mr Gibney, none of this could "excuse the pall of inactivity which appears to have descended on this case from a relatively early stage".

Article 34.1 of the Constitution provides that an inherent feature of the court's jurisdiction is the for the speedy and efficient dispatch of civil litigation and this constitutional imperative means the courts have a jurisdiction, and in certain cases a duty, to best vouchsafe a litigant's right to a hearing within a reasonable time, the judge said.

Against this background, the judge said, it would be almost impossible to envisage circumstances in which the courts "could or should be prepared to resurrect this litigation by renewing the summons after such a remarkable lapse of time".

The renewal of the summons in November 1998 meant the time for service of the proceedings was already extended when the limitation period had already expired some 17 months earlier, he said.

One might query whether it was even appropriate to have sanctioned a further extension of time when the limitation period had expired.

Whatever reservations one might have about this (renewal), a further delay of over 11 years for the service of the summons is "plainly unsustainable if the courts are not to permit the legislative policy choices underpinning the Statute of Limitations, indirectly, to be set at naught," he said.

hnews@herald.ie

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