The comment was made by Michael Delaney, prosecuting, in the case of four gardaí on trial in relation to incidents in Waterford last year.
Sergeant Alan Kissane, Sgt Martha McEnery and Garda Daniel Hickey all deny assaulting Anthony Holness, aged 38, causing him harm, while Garda John Burke denies acting with intent to impede the apprehension or prosecution of another and acting in a manner tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.
The Waterford-based gardaí are alleged to have committed the offences at New Street in the city at about 3am on January 29 last year.
Mr Delaney said in his closing speech yesterday that CCTV footage shown to the jury showed Hickey punching Mr Holness on the back of the head three times when Mr Holness was lying on the ground after being pepper-sprayed, and also kicking him from the side.
He said the footage also showed McEnery crouching beside Mr Holness and striking him at least six times, while Kissane placed his foot on the back of Mr Holness’s head and neck.
Mr Delaney said Burke had directed a CCTV camera away from the assault as it was happening, making the footage of the incident incomplete.
There was “no doubt” that Mr Holness had behaved in an “objectionable” manner after Hickey saw him urinating on the street, Mr Delaney said.
“But the gardaí are not entitled to hand out punishment to people there and then as they see fit.
“It’s for courts in this country to decide whether or not people are guilty or not guilty of an offence, and thereafter to hand down punishment. That’s at the heart of our democracy.”
Paul McDermott, defending Hickey, said gardaí have the right to deal with violence when it happens.
“It’s not a tea party,” he said.
“When it arises, it has to be dealt with. That doesn’t mean that everything is done in an attractive manner. It’s a rough game out there and you entrust men and women on your behalf, as we all do, to go out and deal with lawlessness on the street.”
In this case, there was “a very serious challenge to the exercise of lawful power” put up by Mr Holness, who had effectively said “fuck ye all” to Hickey and his colleague after he was seen urinating on the street.
“Are the guards to take that? Are the guards to accept that, to walk away from it?”
Closing arguments on behalf of the other three defendants will be heard today by Judge Leonie Reynolds and the jury.