Minister accused of delaying proceedings allegedly linked to swine flu vaccine

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The Minister for Health’s “intransigence” in discovering documents is delaying efforts to get on with the first of a number of cases alleging a sleep disorder was a result of the swine flu vaccine, the High Court heard.

Ms Justice Marie Baker is hearing an application by Aoife Bennett (26), from Naas, Co Kildare, requiring the Minister to comply with court orders to discover a range of documents to Ms Bennett’s lawyers in advance of the hearing of her action for damages.

She wants the court to appoint an independent discovery expert who will devise a system for identifying documents relevant to her case.

The court was told, in 16 months since the court previously ordered discovery, her lawyers received 1,105 documents out of 320,000 documents which the Department of Health says it has reviewed and out of millions it holds.

If a proper technology assisted review (TAR) system was put in place, it would be possible to search some 18 million documents to find which were relevant, it is claimed.

Ms Bennett’s case is among a number of similar cases being brought against the Minister, the HSE, Glaxosmithkline Biologicals SA, which produced the vaccine, and the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

She claims she developed narcolepsy and cataplexy disorder as a result of being given the Pandemrix vaccine against swine flu (H1N1) when she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl as part of a nationwide vaccination programme in 2009/10.

The defendants deny her claims.

On Tuesday, Ms Bennett’s counsel, Bruce Antoniotti SC, said discovery has been made by the other defendants in the case, but the Minister’s approach to the discovery order was causing an unnecessary delay in getting the case on.

This case was one of about 20 in which people are claiming they suffered narcolepsy as a result of receiving Pandemrix. This discovery process would benefit them and up to as many as 75-80 cases in total, he said.

His side had agreed to pay half the costs of the discovery process but “intransigence on the part of the Minister” is stopping this case from getting on to a hearing, he said.

Mr Antoniotti said their expert, Andrew Harbison, co-author to a good practice guide on e-discovery, would give evidence there were significant deficiencies in the approach to discovering documents by the department.

Maurice Collins SC, for the Minister, said they would be disputing Mr Harbison’s evidence and denied it has not complied with the discovery order.

The Minister’s side will also say Ms Bennett’s application is premature because it is conducting its own discovery review which will be concluded by the end of May.

The case continues.

The Irish Times - January 2018