East Donegal Co-Operative Livestock Mart Ltd v Attorney General

JurisdictionIreland
CourtSupreme Court
Judgment Date27 July 1970
Date27 July 1970
Docket Number[1967. No. 2194 P.]

Supreme Court

[1967. No. 2194 P.]
East Donegal Co-Operative v. Attorney General
EAST DONEGAL CO-OPERATIVE LIVESTOCK MART LIMITED and Others
Plaintiffs
and
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Defendant.

Constitution - Statute - Validity - Equality before the law - Livestock marts - Control of marts by Minister of State - Licences to trade granted by Minister - Objects of legislation - Whether discretion of Minister was absolute - Livestock Marts Act, 1967 (No. 20 of 1967), ss. 3, 4 - Constitution of Ireland, 1937, Articles 40, 43.

Plenary Summons.

The facts have been summarised in the head-note and they appear in the judgments, post. The first three plaintiffs were the East Donegal Co-Operative Livestock Mart Limited, the Kilkenny Co-Operative Livestock Market Limited and the Carlow Co-Operative Livestock Mart Limited. The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh plaintiffs were Thomas Cahill, George Claxton, John Burton and James Jordan. The plaintiffs' plenary summons was issued on the 20th September, 1967.

The plaintiffs delivered a joint statement of claim on the 26th April, 1968, in the following terms:—

"1. The first-named plaintiff is a co-operative society with a registered office at Raphoe in the County of Donegal and is the owner and operator of a livestock mart.

2. The second-named plaintiff is a co-operative society with a registered office at Barrack Street, Kilkenny, in the County of Kilkenny and is the owner and operator of a livestock mart.

3. The third-named plaintiff is a co-operative society with a registered office at Fair Green, Carlow, in the County of Carlow and is the owner and operator of a livestock mart.

4. The fourth, fifth and sixth-named plaintiffs are all farmers and reside respectively at Ballyportry, Corofin, in the County of Clare, Rathe House, Kilmainhamwood, in the County of Meath and Minehill Dromagh, Mallow, in the County of Cork.

5. The seventh-named plaintiff is a livestock exporter and resides at Main Street, Bagenalstown, in the County of Carlow.

6. The rights of ownership and management of the three first-named plaintiffs and of each of them in the said respective livestock marts were at the date of the enactment by the Oireachtas of the Livestock Marts Act, 1967, and at all material times and still are vested property rights recognised and guaranteed by the Constitution and in particular by Articles 40 and 43 thereof.

7. The fourth, fifth and sixth-named plaintiffs as such farmers and the seventh-named plaintiff as such livestock exporter have and each of them has interests in the nature of constitutional rights of property, namely, that the working of livestock marts shall not be interfered with by the Government and the Oireachtas in a manner damaging to trade and not required by the principles of social justice or the exigencies of the common good.

8. The said rights hereinbefore described of the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh-named plaintiffs and of each of them were at the date of the enactment of the Livestock Marts Act, 1967, and at all material times and still are vested property rights recognised and guaranteed by the Constitution and in particular by Articles 40 and 43 thereof.

9. The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh-named plaintiffs are and all the members of the first, second and third-named plaintiffs are citizens of Ireland.

10. Since the enactment of the Livestock Marts Act, 1967, the first, second and third-named plaintiffs have been granted by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries licences to operate livestock marts pursuant to the provision of the Livestock Marts Act, 1967.

11. The Livestock Marts Act, 1967, is repugnant to Article 40 of the Constitution in that:—

  1. (a) While providing that citizens generally may not carry on a livestock mart without a licence issued by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, the Act, and in particular s. 4 thereof, enables the Minister, if he so thinks fit, to grant exemption from the provisions of the Act in respect of the carrying on of any particular business or business of any particular class or kind and to withdraw any such exemption at any time.

  2. (b) The Minister in the exercise of the powers purported to be given to him by the said Act, and in particular by s. 4 thereof, can discriminate unfairly against some citizens and, in particular, against the plaintiffs.

  3. (c) The said enactment and in particular s. 4 thereof fails to hold the citizens equal before the law in that it, and in particular s. 4 thereof, fails to have regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function in the citizens and purports to enable the Minister to grant, withhold, or withdraw an exemption from the provisions of the Act without having regard to the said matters or to any of them.

  4. (d) The Minister in the exercise of powers purported to be given to him by the said Act can discriminate unfairly against some citizens in that the said Act lays down no standard in the light of which exemptions are to be granted or withdrawn, or the difference of capacity or social function of the citizens is to be judged.

  5. (e) The Minister, in granting, withholding, or withdrawing exemptions may, while exercising intra vires powers purported to be given to him by the Act, unjustly favour some citizens and victimise others.

12. The Livestock Marts Act, 1967, provides at s. 3, sub-ss. 1-5, that—

  1. (a) On the application of or on behalf of a person who proposes to carry on the business of a livestock mart at a specified place in such form and containing such particulars as the Minister may direct, the Minister may at his discretion grant or refuse to grant a licence authorising the carrying on of the business of a livestock mart at that place.

  2. (b) The Minister may, at the time of the granting of a licence, attach to the licence such conditions as he shall think proper and shall specify in the licence.

  3. (c) The Minister may if he so thinks fit amend or revoke a condition attached to a licence.

  4. (d) Upon breach of a condition attached to a licence the holder of the licence shall be guilty of an offence.

  5. (e) Where the holder of a licence is guilty of any offence under the Act the Minister may, if he so thinks fit, revoke the licence.

13. The Livestock Marts Act, 1967, and in particular s. 3, sub-ss. 1-5, thereof are repugnant to the Constitution in that—

  1. (a) The Minister in granting or refusing to grant a licence, or in attaching conditions to a licence, or in amending or revoking conditions contained in a licence, or in revoking a licence, can discriminate unfairly against some citizens and in particular against the plaintiffs.

  2. (b) The Minister need not have regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, or to social function in the applicants or in licence holders and need not, therefore, hold the citizens equal before the law.

  3. (c) The Minister, in exercise of powers purported to be given to him by the said Act and in particular by the said section and sub-sections, can discriminate unfairly against some citizens in that the said Act, section and sub-sections, lay down no standard in the light of which licences are to be granted, refused or revoked or conditions inserted, revoked or amended, or in relation to which the differences of capacity and the social function of the citizens are to be judged.

  4. (d) The Minister in granting, refusing, or revoking licences or in inserting, amending, or revoking conditions may, while exercising intra vires the powers purported to be given to him by the Act and the said section and sub-sections, unjustly favour some citizens and victimise others.

  5. (e) The said Act fails to respect or, as far as practicable, to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the plaintiffs.

  6. (f) The said Act fails to protect as best it may from unjust attack or, in the case of injustice done, to vindicate the property rights of the plaintiffs.

  7. (g) The said Act subjects the plaintiffs' property rights to the arbitrary discretion of the Minister in a manner inconsistent with the principles of social justice.

  8. (h) The said Act subjects the plaintiffs' property rights to the arbitrary discretion of the Minister in a manner not required by the exigencies of the common good.

14. The said Act and in particular s. 9 thereof is repugnant to the Constitution and in particular to Articles 40 and 43 thereof in that it has the effect of permitting the arbitrary confiscation of property of the citizens in a manner inconsistent with the principles of social justice and not required by the exigencies of the common good, and in that it fails to respect or to defend or to vindicate or to protect from unjust attack the property rights of the citizens and in particular of the plaintiffs.

15. By reason of the matters aforesaid the plaintiffs are aggrieved by the provisions of the said Act.

The plaintiffs claim:—

"1. A declaration that the Livestock Marts Act, 1967, is repugnant to the Constitution and invalid.

2. Alternatively—

  1. (a) A declaration that s. 4 of the said Act is repugnant to the Constitution and invalid.

  2. (b) A declaration that s. 3, sub-ss. 1-5, are repugnant to the Constitution and invalid.

  3. (c) A declaration that s. 9 of the said Act is repugnant to the Constitution and invalid.

3. Further and other relief.

4. Costs."

The defendant delivered his defence on the 15th July, 1968, in the following terms:—

"1. The rights referred to in paragraph 6 of the statement of claim were not at the date of the enactment by the Oireachtas of the Livestock Marts Act, 1967, are not, and were not, at all material times, vested property rights recognised and guaranteed by the Constitution, as alleged or at all.

2. The fourth, fifth and sixth-named plaintiffs as farmers (or otherwise) and the seventh-named plaintiff as a livestock exporter (or otherwise) have not and each of them has not interests in the nature of constitutional rights of property...

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