Walsh v Minister for Justice and Equality

JurisdictionIreland
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
JudgeMr. Justice Mahon
Judgment Date23 Mar 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] IECA 106
Docket NumberNeutral Citation Number: [2017] IECA 106

[2017] IECA 106

THE COURT OF APPEAL

(CIVIL)

Mahon J.

Birmingham J.

Mahon J.

Edwards J.

Neutral Citation Number: [2017] IECA 106

RECORD NO. 372/2016

BETWEEN/
DAVID WALSH
RESPONDENT
- AND -
THE MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY, THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS, THE COURTS SERVICE, JUDGE ALICE DOYLE

AND

THE GOVERNOR OF CORK PRISON
APPELLANTS

Contempt of court – Proportionality – Unlawful imprisonment – Appellants seeking to appeal against High Court judgment and order – Whether decision of the Circuit Court judge to imprison the respondent for two weeks for contempt of court was reasonable, proportionate and lawful

Facts: On the 31st May 2016 at Waterford Circuit Court, repossession proceedings came on for hearing before the fourth appellant, Judge Doyle. The plaintiff in the proceedings was Bank of Ireland Mortgages and the defendant was Ms Walsh, a sister of the respondent, Mr Walsh. Ms Walsh was not legally represented and did not personally appear in court. The respondent purported to appear on his sister's behalf and sought the court's leave to address it in that capacity. Leave was firmly refused by the circuit judge and there followed an increasingly heated exchange between her and Mr Walsh in open court which resulted in the respondent being found in contempt of court for which he was sentenced to two weeks imprisonment. On 13th June 2016, the High Court (Humphreys J) deemed the respondent's imprisonment to be disproportionate and unnecessary and proceeded to direct the release of the respondent from prison pursuant to Article 40.4 of the Constitution. The appellants, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the DPP, the Courts Service, Judge Doyle and the Governor of Cork Prison, appealed to the Court of Appeal against the judgment and order of the High Court.

Held by the Court that the respondent's behaviour in court, and his persistent refusal to accept a ruling from the presiding judge may have been, in itself, in terms of its gravity and, in the overall scheme of things relatively mild contempt. Nevertheless, the Court noted that it was contempt and the ruling to that effect by the presiding judge was deemed correct by the learned High Court judge. The Court held that a presiding judge must be afforded very wide discretion as to how to deal with such situations, and has a wide discretion to make a judgment call as to whether the mere expulsion from court of the individual in question is sufficient and appropriate or whether it is necessary to impose a more severe penalty, including imprisonment. Ultimately, the Court held that the decision as to how best to proceed is a matter which ought to be left to the discretion of the presiding judge. The Court noted that the respondent was repeatedly afforded the opportunity to accept the ruling of the Circuit Court judge, was given the opportunity to be represented by, and take advice from, a legally aided solicitor, and was also given the opportunity to apologise; he very clearly declined these offers. The Court noted that a particular feature of the case was the fact that the Circuit Court judge was not simply dealing with the respondent's refusal to accept her ruling and his persistence in addressing the court in the face of that ruling, she was also dealing with a very difficult and intimidating atmosphere in the court caused by people unconnected to the respondent. The Court held that this situation required a firm response to ensure that the court was allowed to do its work. The Court was therefore satisfied that the decision of the Circuit Court judge to imprison the respondent for two weeks for contempt of court was reasonable, proportionate and lawful.

The Court held that the appeal should be allowed.

Appeal allowed.

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Mahon delivered on the 23rd day of March 2017
1

This is an appeal from part of a judgment of the High Court (Humphreys J.) delivered on 13th June 2016, and the consequential order directing the release of the respondent from prison pursuant to Art. 40.4 of the Constitution. The respondent opposes the appeal and has made oral submissions to this court in support of that opposition.

2

The background to these proceedings can be briefly stated as follows. On the 31st May 2016 at Waterford Circuit Court, repossession proceedings came on for hearing before the presiding judge (Her Honour Judge Alice Doyle). The plaintiff in the proceedings was Bank of Ireland Mortgages and the defendant was Ms. Feana Walsh, a sister of the respondent. Ms. Walsh was not legally represented and did not personally appear in court. The respondent purported to appear on his sister's behalf and sought the court's leave to address it in that capacity. Leave was firmly refused by the learned circuit judge and there followed an increasingly heated exchange between her and Mr. Walsh in open court and which resulted in the respondent being found in contempt of court for which he was sentenced to two weeks imprisonment. This exchange was precipitated by the learned circuit judge's refusal to permit the respondent to address the court on his sister's behalf, a decision which the learned High Court judge deemed to be correct.

3

A full transcript of the proceedings in Waterford Circuit Court has been provided to this court, and I have also had the benefit of listening to the Digital Audio Recording (DAR) of the proceedings. The DAR was also made available to the learned High Court judge, but he declined to listen to it when invited to do so.

4

At the outset, it is important to state that while the transcript of the Circuit Court proceedings and the DAR clearly reflect the fact that other individuals frequently interrupted and indeed disrupted the court, the respondent has emphasised that he was in court on that day solely on his sister's behalf, and was not in any way linked to, or associated with, others engaged in that disruptive behaviour. I accept the respondent's assurances in this respect, and I also accept that his motivation for the stance taken by him on the day was entirely related to, as he considered it, the protection of his sister's interests. There were other...

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2 cases
  • Walsh v Minister for Justice and Equality
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 25 February 2019
    ...accordingly unlawful. 2 The order of the High Court was reversed by the Court of Appeal in a judgment delivered on 25 March 2017 ( [2017] IECA 106). Mahon J. (with whom Birmingham and Edwards JJ. agreed) confirmed that the court had listened to the D.A.R., and had concluded that, in all th......
  • Gibney v The Governor of Cork Prison
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 21 June 2019
    ...and Equality [2016] IEHC 323). That judgment was then appealed to the Court of Appeal ( Walsh v. Minister for Justice and Equality [2017] IECA 106); and from the Court of Appeal, the matter was subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court gave its judgment on 25 February ......

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