Irish Lotto Winner Wins Human Rights Case Over Court Delays

The Strasbourg-based court found the Irish judicial system did not decide a series of disputes over a failed business venture in a reasonable timeframe.

Cobh, Ireland. (Photo via visitcobh.com)

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — A lottery winner who lost all of his money on a failed Titanic-themed bar was denied his right to a speedy trial by the Irish government, the European Court of Human Rights found Thursday. 

But despite finding multiple violations, the court refused to award monetary damages to  Vincent Keaney because his behavior during the case “bordered on an abuse of process.” 

“Better than the best sex you’ve ever had in your life,” Keaney said of his lottery winnings in a 2018 documentary. The single father was on public assistance in 1994 when he won 1 million Irish pounds (about $2.2 million today.) 

Keaney used the money to buy the Scotts Building, the former Cunard White Star terminal in Cobh, Ireland, where the Titanic stopped before embarking on its fateful journey to New York. The passenger ship, deemed unsinkable, never reached her destination, striking an iceberg on April 14, 1912, and sinking, killing some 1,500 people. Keaney planned to turn the building into a Titanic-themed bar. 

The business venture failed in 2005. In 2006, Keaney brought a series of civil proceedings against his business partners. In all, he filed 18 complaints alleging deceit, fraud and misrepresentation. An appeals court found his claims to be “frivolous or vexatious,” and the Irish Supreme Court found that they were “nothing short of an abuse of process.” 

Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Elizabeth Dunne said in the final 2017 verdict that “Mr. Keaney had not demonstrated those findings were not supported by credible evidence.” 

In total, the legal proceedings took 11 years and two months. Under the European Convention of Human Rights, the treaty the Strasbourg-based Court of Human Rights enforces, Europeans are guaranteed a right to a fair trial within a reasonable time and the right to an effective remedy, both of which Keaney argued that he was denied. 

The seven-judge panel agreed Thursday.  

“The overall length of the proceedings was excessive and failed to meet the reasonable-time requirement,” the ruling states. That finding came despite Keaney’s behavior, which the court found “clearly contributed to delay.”

Even though he was represented by a lawyer, Keaney did not submit the correct pleadings, didn’t include documentation for his allegations and repeatedly missed deadlines. 

It is not the first time Ireland has been criticized by the Court of Human Rights for the slowness of its judicial system. A 2010 ruling in McFarlane v. Ireland held that a criminal proceeding that took 10 years and six months did not meet the reasonable time requirement of the treaty.

In 2018, an internal review found that Irish appeals courts took, on average, 20 months to respond to complaints. 

The Court of Human Rights typically awards financial compensation for nonmaterial damages, like pain and suffering, in cases where the complainant was subjected to excessively long times for justice. But in this case, the judges refused to award compensation since it “does not seek to provide a perverse incentive to applicants to pursue cases in an abusive manner at the domestic level.” 

Instead, the court awarded Keaney 3,000 euros ($3,200) for expenses. 

Despite strict measures to combat the spread of Covid-19, the court is still issuing decisions for cases it heard before the restrictions were put in place.

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