The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the rule coined in the ‘Battle’ decision that non-lawyers, who have no formal right of audience, cannot represent companies in Court proceedings. The law remains that, save in exceptional circumstances, all body corporates must obtain legal representation before the Courts and cannot be represented by a director, shareholder, officer or servant of a Company.
In Allied Irish Bank plc V Aqua Fresh Fish Limited, the Managing Director of the Defendant Company lodged an appearance on the Company’s behalf when it was served with a special summons. AIB sought an order for possession and sale of the lands that it had secured a charge over in the absence of repayment of the loan in question. The application made by the Managing Director in the High Court seeking permission to represent the Company was refused as he had no professional legal qualification.
On appeal to the Supreme Court from the Court of Appeal, Ms. Justice Finlay Geoghegan found that, in accordance with the principles of fair procedure and in the interest of justice, companies must obtain legal representation in litigious matters.
Citing previous case law and making reference to the doctrine of separate legal personality, the Court noted that companies, as non-natural legal entities, are unable to represent themselves and further commented that directors and shareholders must accept the advantages and disadvantages of being legally separate to corporate entities.
In addition, the Companies Act 2014 makes no reference to a right of a company to be legally represented by lay persons in this jurisdiction.
While the Court chose not to define or provide any categories of exceptional circumstances, it did confirm that a company’s inability financially to obtain legal representation or proving that it had a strong arguable case or defence would not be considered as exceptional circumstances.
The decision serves as a strong reminder to all agents of companies in Ireland that if no legal representation is retained and an exceptional circumstance justifying the lack of it is non-existent, any proceedings brought against a company will not be defended and the high probable risk of allowing judgment to be awarded against it comes to the fore.
For further information contact: Helena O’Brien or Liam Collins
 Battle v Irish Art Promotion Centre Limited  IR 252
 Allied Irish Bank plc v Aqua Fresh Fish Limited  IESC 49
 Coffey v The Environmental Protection Agency  2 IR 125