Four people facing jail over their failure to meet credit union loan instalments have brought High Court proceedings arguing that the manner in which their cases were dealt with breaches the State's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The four, all from Co Monaghan, are said to be in difficult financial circumstances with just one of them employed.
They are challenging orders made at Monaghan District Court jailing them for one month each over failure to meet loan instalments.
It is claimed the District Court orders requiring them to pay the sums, or be jailed in default, unlawfully deprive them of their liberty merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation and amount to conviction of a criminal offence.
They contend, where a person appears before a court without legal representation, as in their case, the court cannot proceed to jail them without giving them the opportunity to seek legal assistance of their own choosing.
It is also claimed that, where they cannot pay for such assistance, it must be provided free of charge.
Proceedings against the four were brought by Monaghan Credit Union arising from loans ranging from €2,000 to more than €10,000.
All four were required by court order to enter into a scheme whereby they would repay the outstanding amounts owed in instalments.
However, they failed to comply with that scheme and that led to orders for their committal to prison.
Mr Justice Michael Part today granted leave to bring judicial review proceedings in which the four are seeking several orders and declarations including that the relevant provisions of the Enforcement of Court Orders Acts are incompatible with the State's obligations under the ECHR.
They also want injunctions preventing the Garda from executing the committal warrants issued by the District Court.
It is claimed the proceedings at Monaghan District Court breached constitutional justice and were inconsistent with the European Convention in that they were not legally represented.
They claim adequate opportunity must be given to a person who appears before a court in a case where their liberty is at risk to seek legal assistance.
Where a person does not have sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, it should be provided free of charge, they also contend.