Article 40.6.1(i) finally gets some teeth!?

Luminarium, Dublin, 15 Jan 2007Various news services (BreakingNews.ie | Ireland.com | RTÉ) report that Mr Justice de Valera today struck down section 3 of the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847 (as amended by the Public Assistance Act, 1939), much to the chagrin of the perpetually angry JC Skinner. That section made begging in a public place an offence, and de Valera J struck it down as a disproportionate infringement upon the right to freedom of expression in Article 40.6.1(i) of the Constitution and the unenumerated right to communicate located in Article 40.3.2.

Perhaps this will be the spur to dust down the Law Reform Commission’s 1985 Report on Vagracy, as part of a thorough-going reform of an area of the law largely untouched since Victorian times? More importantly, as far as I know (and the High Court in The State (Lynch) v Cooney [1992] IR 337 notwithstanding) this is the first time that a section of an Irish Act has been struck down on freedom of expression grounds. If so, that makes today a red letter day in Irish constitutional history: the day upon which Article 40.6.1(i) finally gets some teeth.

I’m very excited. It will certainly feature in my forthcoming paper on the baleful influence of the right to communicate on the lackluster development of the right to freedom of expression at Irish law. However, a full assessment must await sight of the judgment itself (as I have had occasion to muse heretofore: why, oh why, can we not electronically publish decisions on the same day, as every other major common law jurisdiction now does?) and if anyone reading this can supply the text, I should be very grateful indeed.

Update (16 March 2007): As well as being World Consumer Rights Day, yesterday was also the day when the Irish Book Awards were announced (Awards website | Irish Indepdendent | Irish Times | RTÉ | shortlist), a rather fitting day, I think, for the right to freedom of expression finally to come of age at Irish law – on which, there is much coverage today: Ann O’Loughlin (Irish Independent (free reg req’d)) | Carl O’Brien and Mary Carolan (both Irish Times (sub req’d)). As that last article makes clear:

The judge had heard the challenge early last year and reserved judgment. Outlining the thrust of his findings, he said the full judgment would be made available within days.

A online search discloses that, when it was first heard in February last year, the case made it at least into a report in the Irish Emigrant; and the fact that the judge has not yet made the full judgment available may explain in part why it is not yet online; but the general point about how slowly such things move in Ireland still applies.

Update (17 March 2007): There is a reference to the decision on Mirror of Justice, a (largely US) blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Update: the decision was eventually made available online at Dillon v DPP [2007] IEHC 480 (4 December 2007)).

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