Two men charged with obstructing installation of water meters lose High Court case

Two men charged with obstructing the installation of water meters have failed in High Court challenges claiming only Irish Water, rather that the DPP, had the power to prosecute them, writes Ann O'Loughlin.

Stephen Bennett, Pearse Green, Sallynoggin, Dublin and Fedia O'Brien, Grange Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin, had brought separate challenges to prohibit their trials for alleged obstruction.

The common ground in both challenges was a claim that the DPP, who had brought prosecutions against them in the District Court, was not empowered to bring prosecutions under the Water Services Act, 2007.

It was claimed only the water services authority- Irish Water-could do so.

Mr O'Brien, who faces one charge before Tallaght District Court of obstruction, also claimed that charge (under Section 12.1.a of the Water Services Act 2007) of obstructing a "prescribed person" was invalid because it did not disclose an offence known to law. It was also a breach of his constitutional rights, he said.

Mr Justice Michael White refused to prohibit the trials of both men.

He said the 2007 Water Services Act (Section 9.2) states summary proceedings for an offence "may be brought by such person (including the Minister) as is so specified."

The judge noted that provision was subsequently deleted by a 2013 Water Services Act.

The power to prosecute in relation to public administration and the "business generally of public services" was originally vested in the Attorney General after the foundation of the State under the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act 1924, he said. This was transferred to the DPP in 1974.

The correct interpretation of that 1924 Act was that "in all instances where a person authorised by law to prosecute does not initiate a prosecution, then the DPP has the power to prosecute such an offence", he said.

This principle was established in a number of cases and has been accepted for almost a century, he said.

The judge also said Mr O'Brien had not discharged the onus of proving there was a real risk to him of an unfair trial. The validity of the charge against him, and any application by him to have it struck out, was a matter for the trial court, he said.


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