Pensioner jailed over failure to make payments brings fresh High Court proceedings

Aodhan O'Faolain

Reporter:

Aodhan O'Faolain

Email:

justin.kelly@iconicnews.ie

Kildare man arrested on firearms and drugs charges  refused bail by the High Court

A pensioner who had been jailed, and was subsequently released by the High Court, over a failure to pay court-ordered instalments on a €5,000 judgment debt has brought fresh proceedings seeking damages.

The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was arrested in March by order of the District Court and jailed for seven days over not meeting the repayment instalments.

He spent two nights in Mountjoy Prison before being freed on bail a few days later following an application by his lawyer Micheal P. O'Higgins SC to the High Court.

Described as having significant health issues, the man claims he was unable to meet the installments of €500 monthly which he was previously ordered to pay to meet the judgment debt, obtained by a law firm arising from family law proceedings.

His only income was said to be his old age pension and the man is in dire financial straits.

After the man's release, the Free Legal Advice Centres, which took proceedings on his behalf, said his case underlined "major failings" in debt enforcement law here.

The case returned before the High Court on Monday when Mr O'Higgins SC for the man secured permission to bring fresh proceedings arising out of his imprisonment.

In his action against the Governor of Mountjoy and the Minister for Justice and Equality the man seeks various orders and declarations from the courts including an order formally quashing the District Court order for his arrest and detention arising out of his failure to pay an instalment order.

He also seeks damages for the time he spent in prison.

He further seeks a declaration that before a debtor can be imprisoned for the non payment of an instalment order the Judge hearing the application must alert the debtor to the possibility of imprisonment and explain that the debtor has an entitlement to apply for legal aid.

The man claims the District Court judge who sentenced him to jail did not apply two safeguards required under legislation when a person faces jail for failure to meet the terms of an instalment order.

Those required legal aid must be offered to the debtor and no jailing order be made unless the court is satisfied the creditor has shown beyond reasonable doubt the debtor failed to pay due to their “wilful refusal or culpable neglect”.

Permission to bring the action was granted on an ex-parte basis by Mr Justice Seamus Noonan. The judge made the matter returnable to a date in July.