'Preposterous' begging case dismissed

 

A High Court judge has dismissed as “preposterous” and “utterly without merit” a challenge by a young woman beggar to her conviction and fine for a public order offence.

Carmen Ilie (20), a native of Romania with an address at Cabra Park, Dublin, was convicted of wilfully obstructing a female passerby in Dublin city centre late at night.

Mr Justice John Hedigan said the judicial review proceedings on behalf of Ms Ilie were “unstateable” given the evidence.

The evidence was that a garda saw Ms Ilie grab on to the handbag of a pedestrian on Aston Quay. This was a wilful interference with the rights of citizens to travel freely on their own streets particularly late at night, and the case should never have been brought, Mr Justice Hedigan said.

He awarded costs to the DPP against Ms Ilie and lifted the stay on her conviction and fine which was in place pending the outcome of the High Court case. He also refused to put a stay on his order pending any appeal to the Supreme Court.

The case arose from a decision by District Court Judge Mary Collins in December 2009 to convict Ms Ilie of an offence under Section 9 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 after she admitted blocking a person’s free passage on Aston Quay, Dublin, on August 22nd, 2009.

A garda gave evidence he saw Ms Ilie pull on the woman’s handbag strap.

Judge Collins sentenced Ms Ilie to be bound to the peace on condition she stay outside the Temple Bar area. After Ms Ilie refused to enter into that bond, the judge imposed a €200 fine.

Judge Collins also said she was tired of beggars who “obstruct, harass and impede pedestrians”. She said she had personal experience of her way being impeded and had rarely seen peaceful begging.

Lawyers for Ms Ilie later brought a judicial review challenge in which she sought various reliefs, including a declaration that “a minor obstruction” such as pulling on the handbag strap of a pedestrian cannot amount to an offence contrary to the Public Order Act 1994.

If the facts of the case could amount to an offence under Section 9, it was also submitted Ms Ilie was entitled to defend the charge on grounds of her constitutional right of freedom of expression in the course of begging. It was argued a person has a constitutional right to beg and the purpose of Section 9 was to prevent people blocking roads with barriers or protests.

It was also argued Judge Collins was wrong to refuse to refer legal issues in the matter to the High Court for determination. Judge Collins had refused because the issues raised appeared to her frivolous and vexatious.

In an affidavit, Con Pendred, solicitor for Ms Ilie, said he had encountered similar attempts by the DPP to prosecute persons for begging under the guise of the Public Order Act. The case raised matters of substantive constitutional rights and of personal liberty, he said.

After hearing arguments on behalf of Ms Ilie today, Mr Justice Hedigan said he did not need to hear from lawyers for the DPP as he was dismissing the challenge as “without merit”. On the facts, Ms Ilie had wilfully impeded a passerby and the judge could have come to no other conclusion, he said.

The decision by Judge Collins was the “only conceivable” decision any judge could have made and she was “absolutely right” in refusing to refer the matter to the High Court, Mr Justice Hedigan added.