Ryan v The Governor of Mountjoy Prison

CourtHigh Court
JudgeMr. Justice Noonan
Judgment Date03 April 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] IEHC 207
Docket Number[2017 No. 216 SS]
Date03 April 2017

[2017] IEHC 207


Noonan J.

[2017 No. 216 SS]



Constitution – Art. 40.4.2 of the Constitution – Validity of detention S. 6 of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1940 Failure of debtor to comply with instalment order – Wilful refusal to pay – Civil imprisonment

Facts: The applicant/debtor had filed an application under art. 40.4.2 of the Constitution seeking an inquiry into the validity of his detention. The applicant contended that he was not afforded fair procedures while putting him in prison, as he did not avail the services of the solicitor at the relevant time.

Mr. Justice Noonan dismissed the applicant's application. The Court held that the applicant's detention was lawful. The Court found that the present application was an abuse of the process of law as the applicant was fully versed with the state of affairs. The Court noted that the applicant had failed to pay the relevant amount in relation to a judgment obtained against him. The Court held that there was no breach of fair procedures as the applicant was repeatedly warned of the consequences by the concerned judge for non-compliance of the orders of the Court. The Court held that the applicant's behaviour for not providing his statement of means to the learned judge and refusal to seek legal aid was liable to be condemned. The Court opined that the remedy under art. 40.4.2 of the Constitution was a speedy and simple remedy to secure the release of the person in case the instrument making their detention was fundamentally flawed. The Court noted that the mechanism under art. 40.4.2 should be used cautiously and not to bypass the usual legal remedies available by way of appeal.

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Noonan delivered on the 3rd day of April, 2017

On the 24th February, 2017, I directed that an inquiry be held pursuant to Article 40 of the Constitution into the lawfulness of the applicant's detention at Mountjoy Prison. The inquiry subsequently proceeded over two days on the 3rd and 7th March, 2017.

Background Facts

On the 4th January, 2013, Leixlip and District Credit Union Ltd (‘the Credit Union’) obtained judgment in the Circuit Court against the applicant in a sum of approximately €38,000 and costs. The applicant did not appeal and did not pay the judgment. Consequently on the 13th May, 2014, the Credit Union applied to the District Court for an instalment order. The order of the District Court made on that day notes that there was a balance due under the Circuit Court judgment remaining outstanding in the sum of €42,399.01. A sum of €990 was awarded for the costs of the District Court application so that the total due by the applicant at the conclusion of the District Court proceedings was €43,389.01. The matter came before the District Court on foot of a summons issued by the Credit Union on the 19th March, 2014, requiring him to attend before the court for examination as to his means. The order recites that the applicant failed to lodge a statement of means in accordance with the summons, failed to attend for examination today in accordance with the summons, refused to submit himself for cross examination by or on behalf of the Credit Union and failed to satisfy the court that he was not able to pay the debt in one sum or by instalments. Having so found, the court then made an instalment order against the applicant ordering him to pay the total due in monthly instalments of €300 each. The applicant did not appeal the order of the District Court. It would appear that he has to date paid nothing on foot of the instalment order.


Section 6 of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1940 as substituted by s. 2 of the Enforcement of Court Orders (Amendment) Act, 2009 provides for a mechanism whereby, upon a failure by a debtor to comply with an instalment order, a creditor may apply for a summons directing the debtor to appear before the District Court. On the return of such summons before the District Court, the court may make a range of orders including an order for the arrest and imprisonment of the debtor for any period not exceeding three months. Such order may however only be made by the court where it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the failure to comply with the instalment order is not due to inability to pay but wilful refusal or culpable neglect and further, that the debtor has no goods against which execution could be levied. Where a debtor is imprisoned in such circumstances, he or she is entitled to be immediately released upon payment of the accrued instalments then due. S. 6A provides for the grant of legal aid to a debtor in s. 6 proceedings.


On the application of the Credit Union, such a summons was issued in this case. It came before the District Court on four occasions, the 12th July, 2016, the 13th September, 2016, the 24th January, 2017, and the 21st February, 2017. I had the benefit of a transcript of the digital audio recording from the court on each of the three latter dates. For the purposes of the within application, it is relevant to refer to the salient features of those transcripts.


On the 13th September, 2016, the Credit Union appeared by counsel and solicitor before the court. The applicant represented himself. Counsel opened the matter to the court by referring to the fact that on the previous occasion, the 12th July, the applicant had appeared and placed reliance on a promissory note that he furnished to the Credit Union. The applicant interjected by saying ‘objection, objection’. The judge pointed out that counsel had not finished his opening remarks and asked the applicant to be polite. The applicant responded by saying that he was looking for due process here and was polite. When counsel had concluded opening the case to the court, the judge afforded the applicant an opportunity to address him. The applicant commenced by saying:

‘I am looking for due process. This is a common law jurisdiction. Is the plaintiff in court?’


The judge explained the procedure to the applicant who repeatedly interrupted him by making remarks such as ‘it is a common law jurisdiction’, ‘is the plaintiff in court here today?’ and ‘I object to this case going forward.’ Throughout the course of the hearing, the applicant persisted in repeating these and similar phrases in a mantra like form without directly responding to any of the questions asked by the judge. When it was pointed out that the plaintiff was an incorporated body who had a nominee present in court, the applicant persisted in stating that the plaintiff wasn't present in court and there couldn't be a case without a plaintiff. When addressed by the court, the applicant simply responded with the recitation ‘it is a common law jurisdiction’ or ‘there is no plaintiff in court’ or ‘I do not consent to the case going forward’.


The judge indicated that the case was proceeding and he was going to hear the evidence. He also noted that he issued the applicant with the statutory warning on the previous occasion which could give rise to certain consequences. This is presumably a reference to the potential for imprisonment envisaged by the Act in the context of wilful refusal to pay.


The Credit Union witness gave evidence and was cross examined by the applicant. While the applicant was in the course of cross examining the Credit Union witness, the following exchange took place with the court:

‘Judge Coughlan: if she is the appointed credit control officer, she is the appointed credit control officer.

Mr. Ryan: Do you represent the plaintiff?

Judge Coughlan: I am just making a clarification for your benefit.

Mr. Ryan: Are you representing the plaintiff?

Judge Coughlan: I beg your pardon, sir, don't be facetious with me.

Mr. Ryan: I am not being facetious.

Judge Coughlan: You most certainly are.’


It is evident from the response of the court that these questions were addressed to the judge not the witness. In response to further comments from the judge, the applicant said:

‘Mr. Ryan: Are you representing the plaintiff. Am I getting due process here?

Judge Coughlan: You are, sir, becoming more obnoxious as time goes on.

Mr. Ryan: I am not obnoxious. I am not obnoxious.’


At the conclusion of the evidence, further exchanges took place between the applicant and the judge in which the applicant asked the judge what his name was and then what his full name was. The applicant then reverted to his stock phrase about not consenting to the matter going forward. The judge then indicated that he was satisfied that there had been wilful contempt of the order and that he was directing a warrant for his detention issue for him to be held in contempt. To this the applicant responded with a new mantra ‘it is a civil matter.’ This was repeated and the judge again said that the applicant had wilfully refused to comply with court orders and he was issuing a warrant. Matters concluded there and it would appear for whatever reason that in fact the warrant was not executed. This seems to have been because there was no garda present in court at the relevant time. Consequently, the matter appeared again before the court on the 24th January, 2017.


Counsel again reminded the court of the background to the matter and the judge enquired as to whether the applicant provided a statement of means, which he had not. He was asked by the judge if he had one with him to which the applicant responded by reverting to his previous mantra ‘is the plaintiff in court?’. On being told that the applicant did not have a statement of means, notwithstanding opposition from counsel for the Credit Union to the matter being adjourned, the court gave the applicant an opportunity to produce one in the...

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2 cases
  • White v Governor of Mountjoy Prison
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 6 November 2017
    ...the functioning of the courts in the making of orders and the appeal of those orders.’ 28 In Ryan v. the Governor of Mountjoy Prison [2017] IEHC 207, I referred to some of these authorities and noted (at para. 40): ‘All of this serves to underscore the fact that the procedure by way of Arti......
  • Singh v Governor of Cloverhill Prison
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 16 May 2019
    ...that case is clear, generally applicable, and binding on this Court. As Noonan J. observes in Ryan v. Governor of Mountjoy Prison [2017] IEHC 207, para 40: ‘[T] he procedure by way of Article 40 is suitable for cases where the instrument of detention is so clearly flawed on its face that i......

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