Two men awarded settlements after being unlawfully imprisoned by a judge for two nights
Joe Doocey and Wayne Nash were imprisoned by a judge after he indicated he had overheard them insult him.
AN ERROR IN law by a District Court judge, who wrongly sent two men to jail for contempt of court, has cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of euro in damages and legal costs.
Joe Doocey and Wayne Nash spent two days and two nights in jail after Judge Seamus Hughes at Athlone District Court in June 2016 imprisoned them for seven days each after indicating he had overheard them insult him.
Both had been released after 48 hours after the High Court, following an inquiry under Article 40 of the Constitution, found they had been unlawfully detained.
Under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, Mr Doocey, of Knoxbarrett, Ballina, Co Mayo, and Wayne Nash, Athlone, Co Westmeath, successfully sued the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for damages limited to €75,000 each for unlawful deprivation of liberty as a result of a judicial act.
The Act states: “A person….found to have been unlawfully deprived of his or her liberty as a result of a judicial act may institute proceedings in the Circuit Court to recover compensation for any loss, injury or damage suffered as a result of that judicial act and the Circuit Court may award…such damages as it considers appropriate.”
The legislation states that nothing within the Act “shall operate to affect the independence of a judge in the performance of his or her judicial functions…..or any rule of law relating to immunity from suit of judges.”
It explains that a judicial act means an act of a court done in good faith but in excess of jurisdiction and includes an act done on the instructions of, or on behalf of, a judge.
The dual proceedings, which came before Judge Kathryn Hutton in the Circuit Civil court, were the first claims to have been made under the 2014 amended legislation and were led by Turlough O’Donnell and barrister Mark William Murphy, on behalf of the two men.
Judge Hutton heard that Doocey had been attending the Athlone court in relation to an alleged public order offence and had been accompanied by Nash. They claimed that while both of them were talking on a public footpath outside the court a Garda told them their presence was required by the judge.
Both men claimed that when they returned to court Judge Hughes indicated he had overheard them insult him and purported to issue a Warrant of Committal for contempt of court “ostensibly on the basis they, within the curtilage of the courthouse, wilfully insulted” him and had refused to purge their contempt.
The Warrant had required both men to be jailed for seven days in the Midlands Prison where they had immediately been taken.
Doocey and Nash, who were represented by Conor MacGuill, Solicitors, Dundalk, Co Louth, claimed that Judge Hughes, acted “unlawfully and without jurisdiction” under an 1851 Petty Sessions Act extending only to contempt in the face of a court and not to a conversation on a public footpath.
Both Doocey and Nash claimed they had been publicly arrested, distressed, humiliated and unlawfully deprived of their liberty and claimed damages to a limit of €75,000 each.
Robert Barron, who appeared with barrister Alex Caffrey, for the Minister, had lodged a defence which, accepting they had been unlawfully detained by reason of a judicial act, denied they had suffered serious injury, loss and damage.
Following several hours of talks O’Donnell told Judge Hutton that the proceedings had been settled (for a sum not publicly disclosed) and requiring an order for the legal costs of Doocey and Nash.
Doocey (52) who is currently serving a prison sentence for criminal damage, assault causing harm to a Garda Sergeant and endangerment, was brought to and from court by a prison escort.