Covid laws queried as Donegal woman has charges dismissed

Source: Donegal Daily November 9, 2021

A Donegal woman who was facing six summonses for alleged breaches of Covid 19 regulations had all six summonses dismissed.

The summonses against Patricia McCafferty were all thrown out by Judge Alan Mitchell, at Ballyshannon District Court.

The court agreed with a submission from defence solicitor Frank Dorrian that the summonses were so vague that they did not allege a specific offence against Ms McCafferty, (46) Main Street in Bundoran.

She was charged that at Tubbercurry District Court on April 22 did contravene a penal provision of a regulation under Section 31A (1) of the Health Act as amended, to prevent, minimise or slow the spread of Covid 19.

She was facing five other identical charges, at Sligo Courthouse, Teeling Street on May 7 and on April 30, and three identical charges at Ballyshannon District Court on April 17, May 1 and May 15.

A charge on February 5 that at Ballyshannon District Court she did wilfully prevent or interrupt the free passage of a person in a public place contrary to Section 9 of the Public Order Act was struck out.

A charge of failing to comply with the instructions of a peace officer on the same date and at the same location was also struck out.

Meanwhile, a charge that the defendant left her place of residence without reasonable excuse in contravention of Covid regulations at Tir Conaill Street Donegal Town on February 3 was adjourned.

A charge that the defendant failed to give her name and address to a garda sergeant on April 22 at Tubbercurry District Court was also adjourned.

And a charge that the defendant held a mobile phone while driving at Magheracar Bundoran on November 29 last year was also adjourned.

Mr Dorrian asked Inspector Paul McHugh if the State wanted to make any changes to the summonses and was told no.

Mr Dorrian then read out a sample summons and queried what was the specific offence in the summons with which his client was charged?

Judge Alan Mitchell said that a minimum level of information was required to let a defendant know what they were charged with.

Inspector McHugh said that while the summons did not specify what provision was contravened, the garda’s sworn evidence would show what regulation was allegedly breached.

Judge Mitchell said there was not enough in the summons from a legal point of view.

Mr Dorrian said it was not enough for the Inspector to say that the allegation would be given in evidence.

Judge Mitchell said the summons must tell the defendant what breaches she may have made.

Mr Dorrian said the defence was being asked to address an anonymous body of statutory regulations.

Judge Mitchell cited some case law in support of his position.

He added that he did see a problem with the six identical summonses before the court.

Inspector McHugh asked for an adjournment, but this was refused.

Judge Mitchell said the State could bring a case stated to a higher court if they wished.

But he added that he was satisfied that the summonses did not meet the minimum standard for a summons, and he dismissed the six identical summonses against the defendant.