State loses Supreme Court case involving the reissue of arrest warrants for woman’s failure to pay fines

The State has lost a case in the three-judge Supreme Court over whether committal warrants issued due to a woman’s failure to pay road traffic fines were properly reissued.

The primary question was whether District Judge Hamill and the Superintendent of An Garda Síochána of Lucan Garda Station had properly reissued certain “stale” committal warrants, originally issued due to the failure of a woman to pay fines of €4,600 imposed in respect of a number of Road Traffic Act convictions.

Ms Sharon Buckley’s case involved twelve warrants in total, all relating to minor road traffic matters dealt with on three separate dates in the District Court. The total amount imposed by way of fines was €4,600, and in each case a period of imprisonment was ordered in default of payment.

In respect of the first two sets of warrants, the fines were not paid, and warrants of execution were issued by the District Court in October 2007 and January 2008 respectively, committing Ms Buckley to prison in default. In both instances, the warrants expired and were reissued twice by District Judge Hamill, with the final warrants being reissued on 28th September 2009.

The final warrant relates to an offence for which a fine of €150 was imposed. Again the fine was not paid; the warrant of execution was issued on the 30th March 2009, and reissued by District Judge Hamill on the 28th September 2009. In contrast to the manner in which the other warrants were dealt with, this renewal took place before the date upon which the warrant would have expired – and additionally, on the 3rd November 2009, Ms Buckley’s solicitor sent a cheque for €150 in respect of this warrant, but this was returned by the Garda dealing with the matter. When returning the cheque, the Garda attached a letter in which he stated:

Ms Buckley ‘…feels that attending Mountjoy might be a better solution to her dilemma’.

The applications to renew all aforementioned warrants were certified by the statement that after diligent search Ms Buckley could not be found.

Alleged agreement to execute the warrants

The Garda dealing with the matter deposed that he attended Ms Buckley’s home in November 2009 for the purpose of arresting her on foot of the warrants. In response to her expression of anxiety for herself and her family, and on the basis of what he says was an express promise that she would make herself available after Christmas, he agreed not to execute the warrants until then.

Denying having ever made such an assurance, Ms Buckley insists that in all her dealings with him she made it clear that she wanted to stay out of prison and was offering to pay by instalments, believing that this proposal was still to be discussed in January 2010.

Ms Buckley was allegedly informed that she was due to be arrested on 29th January 2010 – however leave to seek judicial review was granted on the 28th January 2010, forestalling her arrest.

As such, the State accused Ms Buckley of lack of candour in relation to the true reason why the warrants were not executed, saying that she has sought to give the impression that it was because the Gardaí were dilatory rather than because they were trying to facilitate her.

In addition to the claim on behalf of Ms Buckley that the ‘impugned order(s) re-issuing the impugned warrants infringe the provisions of the Courts (No.2) Act 1991’ - the other matters in issue on this appeal are claims that District Judge Hamill erred in law in re-issuing the warrants without sufficient evidence or reasons for so doing; that he did not have regard to the provisions of O. 26 r.11, in that there was no evidence that Ms Buckley could not be found; that the decision to apply for the renewals was contrary to natural and constitutional justice in that the Gardaí had not taken all reasonable steps to execute them; and that the delay in execution was unconscionable and unjustified.


Allowing the appeal, Justice O’Malley stated that it was a prerequisite to the renewal of a warrant that the terms of the warrant have not been executed because the person cannot be found; that the certificates placed before the District Court on each occasion made it perfectly clear that the Gardaí knew where Ms Buckley was, and that she had not lodged an appeal and entered into a recognisance.

In support of this, Justice O’Malley considered the authority set by Brennan v. Windle, which specified that the onus was on the Gardaí to prove compliance with the statutory procedure for renewal of a warrant, and that this involved showing that the person could not be found.

Furthermore, in absence of appropriate arrangement between the Gardaí and the person concerned, and apart from circumstances where an appeal has been lodged; there is no statutory discretion to postpone execution where the whereabouts of the person are known, at the request of that person or otherwise - save perhaps for a limited period in exceptional circumstances.

If the Court is not satisfied of that fact it should refuse to renew the warrants, and it follows that the renewals were invalid.

In relation to the final warrant, where a cheque for the sum of €150 to satisfy the fine was sent by Ms Buckley’s solicitor; Justice O’Malley stated that the power to imprison for default in payment of a fine lapses if the fine is paid, and Garda Rowland should not have returned the cheque.

Ms Buckley’s appeal was therefore allowed and the warrant renewals declared invalid.

  • by Róise Connolly for Irish Legal News
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