Thursday, November 20, 2008

Travellers in Clare - Equal Status Act 2000

An interesting recent case under the Equal Status Act 2000:

Mongans v Clare County Council - DEC-S2008-039

The facts are complex, but it involves a series of cases brought by members of the travelling community surrounding the service provided by Clare County Council arising from the travellers’ applications for housing and related accommodation needs and linked issues.

In an unusual move, the Equality Officer (sitting as the Equality tribunal) required that the travellers attend for a series of "callovers/hearings" which would take place on two particular days. When families did not turn up, even though their representative was present, the Officer decided that no prima facie evidence of discrimination had been provided and therefore that the claims failed.

The travellers were represented by Ms Heather Rosen, and the Tribunal went on to decide that Ms Rosen had obstructed and impeded its investigation and hearing of the cases. The Tribunal was of the view that Ms. Rosen had wilfully abused the Tribunal process and had sought to manipulate the manner in which she carried out her investigative and decision making functions. The end result was that Ms Rosen was ordered to pay expenses of €200 in the main case and a large number of similar cases. (See particularly Paras. 6.1 to 6.13).

The decision raises important procedural issues as to whether the Tribunal took sufficient account of the difficulty involved for a representative in gathering together a large number of claimants who are members of the travelling community for a callover/hearing. The whole idea of a "callover/hearing" seems strange in any event. There is a reference in the decision [para.4.5] to a tragic death of a young traveller woman having occurred close to the time of the callovers, but an adjournment only being granted in the case of close family members.

All in all, it seems unfortunate that the Tribunal did not proceed to a full hearing of the substantive issues and a large number of traveller families may well be left with the impression that the state apparatus is acting against them rather than facilitating their claims.

See also this posting on a subsequent High Court case.