In a High Court case last week Justice Mary Laffoy held that it was unconstitutional to commit a person to prison for their inability to repay a judgment debt.
In 2005 the District Court had jailed Caroline McCann for one month due to her failure to pay instalments to meet a judgment debt of €18,000 to Monaghan Credit Union. The High Court held last week that the prison term was unconstitutional and the case has been adjourned to determine Ms McCann’s claim for damages in respect of the imprisonment.
Justice Mary Laffoy found that there were fundamental deficiencies in section 6 of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1940 which allows an order for imprisonment to be made in respect of unpaid judgment debts. Accordingly she held the section unconstitutional and quashed the order to jail Ms McCann.
There will now be problems enforcing debts by ordering imprisonment. It remains to be seen whether the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court. The judgment will have wide ranging implications for legal areas such as:-
- Debt collection
- Enforcement of judgments for damages
- Family law maintenance orders for the upkeep of a child or spouse
- State recoupment of social welfare allowances, in particular under the “Liability to Maintain a Family” Scheme (when those who fail to maintain their spouses/children adequately must reimburse some of the social welfare payments made to the family as a result of failure to pay maintenance).
For further information or advice contact a member of our Debt Collection, Family Law or Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution Unit.