Case Summary: The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Ireland) Limited –v- Diarmuid Coogan & Ors, Defendants [1988] IR 734


Republic of Ireland

Where a non-governmental organisation had a good faith interest in the life of the unborn and there could not be a victim to sue in respect of that right, the Supreme Court granted standing.


The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children ("SPUC") is a body established to protect the right to life of the unborn child. They sought an injunction to restrain publication of a guide providing information and relevant addresses in relation to abortion. The High Court refused the application on the ground that SPUC lacked standing. SPUC appealed to the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court granted SPUC standing to seek an interim injunction.


It was important to consider the nature of the constitutional right in play, in this case the right to life of the unborn. There could never be a victim who could sue in respect of that right. SPUC was not an officious or meddlesome bystander. The test was was whether the Plaintiff had a good faith interest in the right to life of the unborn, which they did. Every member of the public has an interest in seeing that the fundamental law of the State is upheld. The right to defend the public interest was not the exclusive preserve of the Attorney General. One of the most fundamental rights is access to the courts. That right includes not only access in defence of personal rights but also the right to seek to restrain breaches of the Constitution where the public interest so requires it.

Case Commentary

This case marks a development in a line of reasoning which permits a body acting in good faith to litigate a public interest matter where no other suitable plaintiff can be identified, see Cahill -v- Sutton [1980] IR 269 and Irish Penal Reform Trust Limited & Ors -v- the Governor of Mountjoy Prison & Ors [2005] IEHC 305.

Sustaining Partners