Brothers now in 10th year of legal battle with each other over field in Co Clare

Joseph Slattery restrained from pursuing further litigation without court permission against Thomas Slattery over land near Lahinch

A bitter 10-year legal battle between two brothers over the ownership of a 1.8 hectare (4½ acre) field in Co Clare has led to a Court of Appeal (COA) decision to restrain one sibling from pursuing further litigation in four different courts unless he gets court permission to do so.

The litigation, which the High Court previously observed has incurred “extraordinary” legal costs compared to the value of the land, began in 2012 when Thomas Slattery took proceedings in the Circuit Court alleging trespass by his brother Joseph on the lands near Lahinch.

In a judgment of the three-judge appeal court published this week, Ms Justice Teresa Pilkington said Thomas claimed the lands were transferred to him by their parents, Matthew and Anne, via a deed of December 1981.

Under that, the parents reserved a right of residence to themselves in respect of certain parts of the lands. After the death of Anne Slattery, the last surviving parent, in December 2010, Thomas was registered as full owner of the disputed land. In opposing his brother’s trespass claim, Joseph counterclaimed that he was the legal owner of the lands.

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The Circuit Court found in favour of Thomas, restrained trespass by Joseph and dismissed the counterclaim. Joseph lost appeals against that decision to the High Court and Court of Appeal.

Joseph took further Circuit Court proceedings seeking rectification of the title to the land to reflect his claim but those were struck out on the basis that the ownership issue had been already determined.

Thomas had in the interim taken separate proceedings where he got an order restraining Joseph from trespassing on a 0.08 hectare (0.2 acre) sliver of land adjoining the main field, which had previously been part of the West Clare Railway line. Joseph lost a High Court appeal against that order in 2016.

Joseph then took fresh High Court proceedings seeking orders that he was the rightful owner of the land. Thomas got those struck out, again on the basis that the ownership issue had already been decided, and got what is known as an Isaac Wunder order, restraining further litigation by his brother on the issue without leave of the court.

The COA upheld those orders in 2019 on appeal and the Supreme Court refused to hear a further appeal by Joseph, observing that “a line now needed to be drawn within the litigation”.

“That was not an end to the matter,” Ms Justice Pilkington said.

In March 2020, Joseph sought to raise issues before the High Court’s Mr Justice Tony O’Connor who, in July of last year, ultimately refused the orders sought.

Joseph, representing himself, appealed to the COA, making various claims including that he had been denied due process and natural justice in the initial Circuit Court hearing of 2012 and seeking to have previous legal costs orders made against him overturned. The High Court had in 2016 observed that the amount of the legal costs incurred over the field “is extraordinary” when the value of the land is taken into account.

Thomas opposed the appeal and asked the COA to expand the terms of the Isaac Wunder order.

Ms Justice Pilkington, dismissing all grounds of appeal, said it related to issues already adjudicated upon. This matter “must come to an end” and consideration must be afforded to the rights of Thomas, who has said he is elderly and in poor health, as well as those of Joseph, she said.

She said the COA would vary the Isaac Wunder order to restrain Joseph bringing proceedings, including motions, in the Circuit Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, against his brother and specified State parties unless he had received leave from the court to do so.

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