Family can take legal action over alleged Garda assaults

Officers previously found not guilty of beating man and falsely imprisoning woman

Fidelma and Owen Gaffney  claim a number of gardaí forcibly entered their flat at Basin Street, Dublin, and assaulted them both

Fidelma and Owen Gaffney claim a number of gardaí forcibly entered their flat at Basin Street, Dublin, and assaulted them both

 

A civil action arising out of an incident in which a mother and her son say they were assaulted by gardaí in their home can proceed, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Fidelma and Owen Gaffney sued An Garda Síochána and the State over the February 2008 incident when they claim a number of gardaí forcibly entered their flat at Basin Street, Dublin, and assaulted them both.

Four gardaí later went on trial in relation to the incident, following a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission investigation.

The first trial of the gardaí collapsed but in a second trial, which lasted 25 days, they were acquitted by a jury of charges of trespass and assaulting Mr Gaffney. Three gardaí were also acquitted of false imprisonment of the mother.

It had been alleged that Mr Gaffney, who was 18 at the time, was struck several times with batons and that his mother was restrained and locked in a bathroom while this was happening. The gardaí denied the charges.

The Gaffneys sued in the High Court alleging, among other things, assault, trespass and breach of various constitutional rights.

Balance of justice

In April last year, the High Court granted the State’s application to strike out their case due to the delay in pursuing it. They appealed and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, on behalf of a three-judge appeal court, overturned the High Court decision. He said the balance of justice favoured permitting the action to proceed.

There was no doubt a delay of some three years and five months on the part of the Gaffneys in pursuing their case was inordinate and inexcusable, he said.

The judge found the State defendants had not demonstrated the delay caused them any specific prejudice.

There were also two criminal trials arising from the incident and the overall delay had not been as long as in other cases, he said.

There could be “absolutely no room at all” for any further delay, he stressed.

He ordered the Gaffneys to serve notice of their intention to proceed with their case within two weeks and, within two further months, to seek directions for an early trial and case management of the proceedings.

If they fail to do so and the State makes a second application to dismiss their case for want of prosecution, it was hard to see how the plaintiffs would have any “effective response”, he said.