Supreme Court Clarifies Application Of Bankers' Books Evidence Acts

The Supreme Court in the case of Ulster Bank v O'Brien holds that banks need not comply with the provisions of the Bankers' Books Evidence Acts when proving a claim for monies due from a defaulting borrower. A bank may prove its claim in the same way as any other corporate creditor.

In summary

The Supreme Court decision in O'Brien establishes that to focus on the procedures under the Bankers' Books Evidence Acts 1879-1959 (the "Act") is misconceived because:

a bank does not necessarily need to rely on "bankers' books" in order to prove a contract of loan, a breach by the borrower and the amount due; and a bank should not be precluded from proving its case in the same way as any other commercial creditor. Background

There were a number of recent High Court decisions which introduced undue complexity and doubt to this issue. The Court in these cases held that unless a plaintiff bank could show that it had complied with the Act its evidence would be hearsay. O'Malley J. in Ulster Bank Ireland Ltd v. Dermody [2014] IEHC 140 and Cregan J. in ACC Bank plc v. Byrne [2014] IEHC 530 expressed the view that the Act had a dual purpose of relaxing the: (i) "best evidence" rule; and (ii) hearsay rule. That is to say, the Act allowed a copy of an entry in a banker's book to be produced, rather than the original entry itself, and it allowed the entry (which could be proved by a duly authenticated copy) to be admitted as proof of the truth of its contents. O'Malley J. was clearly of the opinion that, absent compliance with the Act, an entry in a bank's books is not admissible in evidence to prove the truth of its contents, and that such an entry has to be proved by its author, as is the case in relation to other documents.

For further information on these cases, click here.

If the reasoning in these cases was upheld by the Supreme Court, it would have meant that there would have been a very serious lacuna in the law. The High Court's approach was not consistent with the earlier High Court decisions of Moorview Developments Ltd v. First Active plc [2010] IEHC 275 and Bank of Scotland v. Fergus [2012] IEHC 131], in which it was held that a witness could give evidence by reference to the books and records of a company in order to demonstrate liability, subject to any rebutting evidence. The key point is that it is not just banks that rely on records to prove debts. Many companies rely on records to inform them who are indebted to them and in what amount. In...

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