John Waters and Gemma O'Doherty tell court Covid-19 laws are 'effective suspension' of constitutional rights

John Waters and Gemma O'Doherty tell court Covid-19 laws are 'effective suspension' of constitutional rights
John Waters and Gemma O’Doherty leaving the Four Courts. Picture: Collins

John Waters and Gemma O'Doherty have told the High Court that laws introduced by the State due to the Covid-19 pandemic are "unprecedented" and amount to an "effective suspension" of constitutional rights.

In judicial review proceedings against the State and the Minister for Health they seek to have various pieces of recently enacted legislation, which they claim are unconstitutional and flawed, quashed by a judge of the High Court.

The High Court has directed that their application for permission to bring their challenge be heard in the presence of the respondents.

Both the State and lawyers representing the Dáil, Seanad and the Ceann Comhairle which are notice parties to the proceedings claim the court should not allow them bring the challenge and that the case should be dismissed.

The preliminary application to determine if permission should be granted began before Mr Justice Charles Meenan today.

'Hugely important for all citizens'

In their submissions to the court Ms O'Doherty and Mr Waters said the laws that had been introduced, and the manner in which they were enacted, are repugnant to several articles of the Constitution including the right to travel, bodily integrity and the family.

Mr Waters said the issues that he and Ms O'Doherty were raising were hugely important for all citizens. He said the laws brought in over Covid-19 amount to a suspension of constitutional rights.

The laws, he said, keep people in their homes, and have resulted in the closure of parks and beaches.

Mr Waters said he agreed with comments by former British Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption who described the restrictions in place in the UK, which Mr Waters said are similar to the ones in Ireland, as being worse that than what was imposed in the UK during World War 2.

Referring to the economic impact of the restrictions he said he feared that the country could find itself back in the place it was in 1929 when the Wall Street Crash sent the would into an economic depression.

Mr Waters also told the court they do not accept the accuracy of the number of deaths in the state attributable to Covid-19, due to the manner in which such deaths are being officially recorded.

LIke living 'in Nazi Germany'

Ms O'Doherty, who said that she is an award-winning journalist who had done a lot of work covering health issues, said the laws had given powers allowing the gardaí to harass people when they go out and about and have kept citizens under mass house arrest.

During her submissions to the court she compared the restrictions to like living "in Nazi Germany" where people were required to carry papers with them at all times.

This she said was detrimental to people's health, including that by being kept indoors they were not getting enough Vitamin D.

She also told the court the State basis for introducing the laws are "scientifically fraudulent" and evidence to that effect would be submitted at the full hearing of their action.

Mr Waters also told the court that the case more than satisfied the legal threshold required by the court to allow the challenge proceed to a full hearing.

Both he and Ms O'Doherty also have the legal standing to bring the case as they have been personally affected by the laws challenged, he submitted.

In their action Ms O'Doherty and Mr Waters have challenged legislation including the 2020 Health Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act, the 2020 Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act Covid-19 Act, The 1947 Health Act (Affected Areas) Order.

Their proceedings are also aimed at striking down temporary restriction regulations brought due to Covid-19 under the 1947 Health Act.

The state represented by Patrick McCann SC, appearing with Gerard Meehan Bl, opposes the application for leave, and says that the claims are not arguable.

The Dáil, the Seanad and the Ceann Comhairle, which have been added as notice parties to the action because part of the challenge concerns how the laws were enacted, and represented by Francis Kieran Bl, is also opposed to leave being granted.

As was the case when the matter was before the court last week there was tight security and a large Garda presence around the Four Courts Complex.

About 40 supporters of the two journalists remained outside barriers erected by the gardaí close to to the courtroom where the case is being heard.

Only a limited number of persons were allowed into the court due to social distancing conditions imposed by the Courts Service.

The hearing continues tomorrow, Wednesday.

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