State ordered to pay costs of visually impaired man in High Court case on right to secret ballot

The High Court has ordered the State to pay the legal costs of a visually impaired man who won a court declaration concerning his right to a secret ballot in referenda and elections.

Robbie Sinnott, of the Blind Legal Alliance, issued proceedings against the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, alleging that the Minister had failed to vindicate his constitutional right to vote in secret, as persons with visual impairments are only permitted to vote with the help of a “trusted friend” or presiding officer at the polling station. Mr Sinnott was supported in the case by PILA, which facilitated legal representation by Eversheds Sutherland Solicitors, Michael McDowell SC, Michael Lynn SC and Ciarán Doherty BL.

During the course of the case, which ran for 9 days in the High Court, the Minister introduced regulations to allow for independent voting in referenda. Last month, Mr Justice Tony O’Connor found in favour of Mr Sinnott and proposed to issue two declarations. The first was a declaration that the Minister had a duty to outline publicly details of planned studies and regulations for provision of arrangements to facilitate voters with visual impairments to vote without assistance, as the Minister is so empowered to do by s 94(5)(1) of the Electoral Act 1992. The second declaration was to the effect that the Minister had a duty to provide such arrangements “where there are no disclosed reasonably practicable or effective reasons not to vindicate the right to mark ballot papers without assistance”.

The two parties came back before the court at the end of April to discuss finalising the orders and liability for costs. The State objected to the first declaration, and Michael McDowell SC for the plaintiff said that it had not technically been sought by Mr Sinnott, and that he had been vindicated by the judgment in making the second declaration. The second declaration alone was made by Mr Justice O’Connor, and the Court rejected the State’s application for a stay on the order.

Frank Callanan SC for the State argued that Mr Sinnott should not have all his costs covered, as he had altered his pleadings and relief sought at a point after the trial had commenced. Mr Justice O’Connor awarded costs in favour of Mr Sinnott and will consider a stay on the order for costs later in the month.

Click here for the PILA Bulletin’s earlier article on the case.




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