The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD today announced that the following judges have agreed to serve as members of the CervicalCheck Tribunal:
The Hon. Ms. Justice Ann Power who is a serving judge of the Court of Appeal as chairperson of the Tribunal
The Hon. Mr. Justice Tony O’Connor who is a serving judge of the High Court as an ordinary member of the Tribunal
These appointments will be in addition to the appointment of the Hon. Mr. Justice Brian McGovern who is a retired judge of the Court of Appeal and was previously identified for appointment as an ordinary member of the Tribunal. The Minister said that the Tribunal will be established without delay.
The Minister said:
"The Tribunal will allow women to progress their cases in a sensitive manner. I want to thank all three judges for taking on these roles and look forward to engaging with them."
The Minister also said the CervicalCheck Steering Committee would be reconvened:
"I intend to appoint an independent chair to that group, as soon as a suitable candidate can be identified. A meeting of the Steering Committee will be convened in the near future."
Notes to the Editor:
Mr Justice Charles Meenan’s report on an alternative system for dealing with claims arising out of CervicalCheck, which was published on 16 October 2018, proposed that a tribunal be established under statute that would facilitate the hearing of claims arising from CervicalCheck in private and in a more timely and less adversarial manner, while also recognising the issues of liability involved, the Constitutional right of access to the courts and the Constitutional right of the parties involved to fair procedures.
The legislation necessary to establish the CervicalCheck Tribunal passed through the Oireachtas and was signed into law by the President on 23 July 2019.
As the key arrangements for the CervicalCheck Tribunal were in place it was intended that the Tribunal would be established by the end of March 2020. However, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, in line with the public health measures being taken to control the outbreak of the virus it was decided to delay the establishment of the Tribunal.
Ms. Justice Mary Irvine and Mr. Justice Michael Peart who had been nominated as Chairperson and as an ordinary member of the Tribunal respectively, are no longer in a position to take up those roles.
In addition to the chair, the Tribunal must also have at least two suitably qualified ordinary members. Accordingly, it was not possible to establish the Tribunal until suitable persons had been identified to take up the posts in place of Ms. Justice Irvine and Mr. Justice Peart.
As suitable new members have now been identified for appointment, once the newly nominated chairperson is satisfied to do so, it is intended that the Tribunal will be established as soon as the new members have had an opportunity to review the rules, procedures and other arrangements put in place by Ms Justice Irvine, including the new COVID-19 specific procedures, and to make any changes they feel necessary.
The CervicalCheck Steering Committee was established in June 2018 to provide oversight and assurance on the implementation of key decisions taken by Government in relation to CervicalCheck, and to work to ensure a sustainable and effective cervical screening programme in the interests of women’s health.
The Committee’s membership includes senior officials from the department and the HSE, clinicians and patient advocates and representatives.
The Committee met in February 2020 but has not met in the last few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The implementation plan for the recommendations of the Scoping Inquiry into the CervicalCheck Screening Programme (Scally Report) was approved by Government on 11 December 2018. The implementation plan contains 170 actions. At the end of Q1 2020, 137 of the 170 identified actions were completed. The Department of Health will soon publish the Q2 2020 report.
Since its establishment, the Committee has overseen a number of significant improvements to the CervicalCheck Programme. Among these, recently, on 30 March 2020 the CervicalCheck Screening Programme made the technical transition to HPV cervical screening. This means that any test taken after this date is an HPV cervical screening test with follow-up cytology if required.
The move to HPV cervical screening means that Ireland joins a small group of countries, such as Australia, England, the Netherlands and Wales, that employs this ‘best-in-class’ testing to screen for cervical cancer. This, coupled with the roll-out of HPV vaccinations, means that Ireland can look forward to a significant reduction in the incidence of cervical cancer cases over the next 10-20 years.