Inquiry on legality of woman’s detention for contempt ordered

Claire Knowles jailed over contempt of direction to hand over possession of home to bank

A High Court judge has directed an inquiry into the legality of the detention in Limerick Prison of a woman for contempt of a Circuit Court order directing she hand over possession of her home to a bank.

Ben Gilroy, of Direct Democracy Ireland, applied on Wednesday to Mr Justice Max Barrett for the inquiry following the imprisonment the previous day of Claire Knowles (56), who lives with her son at Castlejayne, Glanmire, Cork.

During the application, Mr Gilroy said there was “huge confusion” over possession orders made by the Circuit Court, an apparent reference to conflicting High Court decisions of November and May last concerning the Circuit Court’s jurisdiction to hear certain repossession cases.

Suffered difficulties

He said Ms Knowles suffered difficulties including depression after the possession order was made in January 2014, and the Master of the High Court later agreed to extend time for her to appeal that possession order.


Ms Knowles has no recollection of getting a letter of demand of November 2009 and there were issues about a signature on that, he added.

In an affidavit, Mr Gilroy said he is a friend of Ms Knowles. He said the warrant detaining her was invalid as it was in the name of ICS Building Society and, as far as he was aware, the governor and company of the Bank of Ireland had applied to the Circuit Court to reconstitute the proceedings by substituting the governor and company of BOI earlier this year.

Ms Knowles is in dispute with ICS, he said. On November 10th, the Master of the High Court extended time for her and her son to appeal the Circuit Court possession order of January 20th, 2014. When a further extension was sought on December 2nd, the Master granted an additional 72 hours, he said.

Notice of appeal

Ms Knowles did serve her notice of appeal on December 2nd, he said.

He said the plaintiff bank in the Circuit Court proceedings appealed the Master’s order, and the High Court on Monday last dismissed the appeal and affirmed the Master’s order of November 10th.

Mr Gilroy said Ms Knowles previously appeared before Judge Donagh McDonagh at the Circuit Court on October 27th. The judge said he had no jurisdiction in the Circuit Court possession proceedings, refused to make an order for attachment and committal, and adjourned the matter to December 8th when Ms Knowles appeared before Judge O’Donnabhain.

A friend of Ms Knowles who was present had given a written account stating the judge warned Ms Knowles she was at risk of jail and should get legal representation. She was unable to do so and was refused an adjournment to get a lawyer, the account stated.

Described as ‘brazen’

It was also stated, when her case was called, Ms Knowles began reading from a prepared statement but was interrupted by the judge who made the committal order. It was stated she continued to read the statement and the judge said she was in breach of the order and described her as “brazen”.

Mr Justice Barrett said he would direct an inquiry under Article 40 of the Constitution into the legality of Ms Knowles detention and order she be produced in court on Thursday morning for that inquiry.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times