Judge decides not to rule on legal aid case for water charge protesters

Legal Aid Board agrees to assist man accused of breaching court orders over meter installation

A judge has decided not to rule on a test case over legal aid for anti-water charge protesters.

The decision was made because the Legal Aid Board has agreed to provide legal aid to the protester accused of breaching court orders restraining interference with installation of meters.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott ruled there was no point in his delivering judgment in the case brought by Anthony Eccles because the Legal Aid Board has determined he is entitled to have his legal costs covered by the State in proceedings seeking his attachment, possible committal to prison and/or a fine.

Mr Eccles, along with several other anti-water charges protesters, are accused of breaching court orders obtained by GMC Sierra, whose workers have been installing water meters in Dublin city.

The protesters deny the allegations which are the subject of adjourned proceedings before Mr Justice Paul Gilligan.

The proceedings concerning legal aid arose after Mr Eccles was informed the Legal Aid (Custody Issues) Scheme is not available to persons allegedly in contempt of court orders.

It was claimed the State’s failure to provide legal aid for persons without means facing the loss of their liberty in non-criminal proceedings is contrary to the Constitution and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case was heard in early December before Mr Justice McDermott who reserved his decision. Mr Eccles was later informed by the Board he was entitled to legal aid.

Lawyers for the State, who had argued the proceedings were “premature”, had argued, given the Board’s decision, Mr Eccles’ case was now pointless.

Lawyers for Mr Eccles, Edenmore Park, Coolock Dublin, asked the court to grant judgment, saying important issues had been raised in the case which may come before the courts in the future.

The judge agreed the action was moot and said he was exercising his discretion not to proceed to judgment.

The court also heard the State intends to make a similar application concerning a case brought by another anti-water charges protester, John Darcy, seeking legal aid to defend claims of contempt of court orders. His case was heard alongside Mr Eccles’s and judgment was also reserved.

Unlike Mr Eccles, Mr Darcy, St Donaghs Road, Coolock, had not applied to the Legal Aid Board for legal aid. The matter is due before the court later this month.

Both Mr Darcy and Mr Eccles are alleged to have breached orders obtained last year by GMC Sierra Ltd. The company secured injunctions preventing interference with its workers in installing meters. The protesters say they have been engaged in a lawful and peaceful protest and deny any wrongdoing.