Judge says no free legal aid for those who breach Covid regulations

At a sitting of Midleton District on Thursday, Judge Joanne Carroll said that the State has been put to considerable cost to date dealing with Covid-19
Judge says no free legal aid for those who breach Covid regulations

Olivia Kelleher

A district court judge has declined to grant free legal aid to individuals who were fined for breaching the pandemic regulations last year.

At a sitting of Midleton District on Thursday, Judge Joanne Carroll said that the State has been put to considerable cost to date dealing with Covid-19.

She said she was not prepared to grant free legal aid in cases where solicitors were representing clients who were before her court for failing to pay fines arising out of breaches of the Covid-19 regulations during various State lockdowns.

A number of defendants appeared in court following non-payment of Covid-19 fines for breaches in January and February of last year.

The defendants included persons who found themselves charged with going beyond the 5km travel restrictions in January of last year and individuals who were fined for organising or attending house parties in the first two months of 2021.

During that period, members of An Garda Síochána could issue a fixed charge penalty notice of €100 for non-essential travel, a €500 fine for non-essential journeys to airport or ports, a €500 fine for organising a house party, and a €150 fine for attending a house party.

Reason for travel

Judge Carroll was told of one case involving a man who was fined for being outside his 5km after he was stopped at a checkpoint near Midleton in Co Cork shortly after 7am on January 14th, 2021.

The man refused to give gardaí an excuse for his reason for travel at the time he was asked his details. However, the middle-aged man told the court that he had dropped his wife to a hospital in Cork.

He apologised to gardaí for not furnishing an explanation on the day.

He handed in a letter from his wife’s surgeon confirming the surgery had taken place on that morning.

Judge Carroll said she was satisfied with his excuse and that she was of the opinion that the man may have been under stress that day arising out of the nature of the procedure. She said that he “may have been short with gardaí”. The case was dismissed.

However, in another case the court was told that two men were stopped in a car on the N25 in February 2021 and were found to be close to 140km from their home in Kerry.

They informed gardaí they were in Cork to purchase a car. They were issued with a fixed charge penalty notice which went unpaid.

Failure to pay

Judge Carroll said that this was not a vital journey. She convicted one of the individuals and imposed a €125 fine, giving him four months to pay.

In another case, Judge Carroll convicted and fined a young woman who failed to pay a fine after she was found attending a birthday party in Cobh last February in breach of the pandemic regulations.

Gardaí called to a house in Cobh on February 9th, 2021 and asked party-goers to leave the property. However, they had to return to the same property in the early hours of February 10th, 2021, and again order people to leave.

The court was told that as this woman was leaving, she verbally abused officers.

The judge described the 40th birthday party as a “premeditated matter.” Judge Carroll convicted and fined the woman €200, giving her three months to pay.

She said the woman flouted the Covid regulations at a time of national crisis.

She also said everyone in the country was aware of the Covid regulations that were in place at the time.

The judge said people could not go to funerals, they could not go to weddings and that she was sure there were many people who would have liked to attend 40th birthday parties, but they followed the public health regulations.

“This lady breached the Covid regulations, the laws were very clear of the time - everyone knew them,” she said.

A number of other people who were due before the court on similar Covid offences could not attend because they either had Covid-19 or were close contacts of confirmed cases. Their cases were adjourned to February or March.

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