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Judge refuses to grant legal aid in cases over non-payment of Covid-19 fines

A judge has refused to grant free legal aid to individuals who failed to pay fines for breaching Covid-19 regulations last year.

Judge Joanne Carroll told Midleton District on Thursday that the State has faced considerable costs in dealing with the pandemic and she was not prepared to approve free legal aid for those who had refused to pay fines for breaching public health regulations during lockdown periods.

Defendants appeared at the court for not paying fixed charge penalty notices issued over matters such as attending house parties and travelling more than 5km from home for non-essential reasons in January and February of last year.

Gardaí were then permitted to issue penalty notices of €100 for non-essential travel, €500 for non-essential journeys to an airport or port, and €150 for attending house parties.

The judge was told that in one case a man was fined for going outside his 5km limit after being stopped at a checkpoint near Midleton on January 14th last. He refused to give gardaí­ a reason for his journey at the time.

However, he told the court on Thursday that he had dropped his wife to a hospital in Cork and apologised for not furnishing an explanation on the day. He handed in a letter from a surgeon confirming his wife had surgery that day.

Explanation

Judge Carroll said she was satisfied with his explanation and acknowledged that the man may have been under stress and “short” with gardaí in the circumstances. The case was dismissed.

In another case, the court heard that two men were stopped in a car on the N25 last February some 140km from their homes in Co Kerry. They told gardaí they had travelled to purchase a car and were issued with a fixed charge penalty notice which was not paid. Judge Carroll said this was not a vital journey as she convicted one of the men and imposed a €125 fine.

The judge also convicted and fined a young woman who failed to pay a fine after she attended a 40th birthday party in Cobh on February 9th last in breach of the regulations.

Gardaí called to the house and asked party goers to leave. However, they had to return in the early hours of February 10th and again order people to leave.

Verbal abuse

The court was told the accused verbally abused officers as she left. The judge convicted and fined the woman €200, saying she had flouted regulations that everyone was aware of at a time of national crisis.

Judge Carroll said people could not attend funerals or weddings and that while many missed out on celebrating other occasions as they followed the rules.

A number of other people due before the court over similar offences were unable to 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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