The Irish Times – December 10th 2015

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.

A handwritten note said they hoped to receive money from a son who had gone to Australia.

Ms Justice Caroline Costello was told by counsel for the lender that documents for the case were posted to the couple’s home on December 23rd. They were not present in court for the proceedings.

There had been phone contact and the lender had expected the couple might have had legal representation in court, but none appeared.

Court rules Under court rules, if an order for possession has not been executed within six years of being issued, an application must be made at the High Court for permission to execute it.

Having read the documents on file, Ms Justice Costello said she was satisfied the lender was entitled to execute possession. The lender was also entitled to its legal costs, she said.

The case was among 28 property possession cases listed before the judge yesterday, 19 of which were taken by Start Mortgages Ltd.

Also before Ms Justice Costello, 10 people were declared bankrupt. Many of those applying for bankruptcy did not have solicitors and had filed their documents having consulted with a personal insolvency practitioner and having been approved by the Insolvency Service of Ireland. There were a total of 54 cases on the bankruptcy list.