A Westmeath man has received legal advice from the bench, with Judge Seamus Hughes telling him he could have a case against gardaí for wrongfully arresting him.
The father of two from the north of the county was brought to court on foot of a warrant for non-payment of a debt, but it emerged that he paid the debt in full a year ago.
Some €700 was owed to a cooperative in the region, but the man told Judge Hughes he had receipts to show he had paid the full amount and more, a total of €1,100.
The detail of the case emerged as Judge Hughes quizzed why it took gardaí until December to execute a warrant issued in February when it emerged that the man has been living in the same north Westmeath town for many years and is known to local traders and the local post office.
The garda who arrested him before court said there had been some confusion about the man’s address, adding that while the townland’s name was in fact correct it didn’t correspond with a local map.
The judge’s original concern was the unacceptable delay in arresting a man well known in his local area, just eight kilometers from the church he sometimes attends.
He said the High Court has given gardaí priority to execute bench warrants and he wasn’t satisfied efforts were made to execute the order he made in court.
But when it emerged the man had paid the debt at the centre of the civil case and had done so over a period of time and finished paying in August of last year, he described the situation as ridiculous.
It was possible on one reading of proceedings that he had been illegally arrested and deprived of his liberty, though there had been no malicious intention behind the arrest, he said.
The garda said he had only received written confirmation from solicitors for the company owed the money last month and only then did he go ahead with the arrest.
Judge Hughes insisted that his criticism was not of the individual garda or of Inspector Dermot Drea, but he offered the man what he called “some free legal advice”.
He suggested that if what he was hearing was true, the man could bring his story to a solicitor because he might have a case against the gardaí or the legal firm who misled gardaí.
He struck out the bench warrant and he also struck out the financial proceedings against the man.
“Go and see a solicitor. You might get a few bob out of this,” he said.