Autistic man can have trial for false arrest heard by jury
A SEVERELY autistic man arrested by gardai after allegedly chasing two women with a stick can have part of his High Court action over his detention heard by a jury, a judge ruled today.
It is claimed on behalf of the the 27-year-old man, who cannot be named, that no effort was made by gardai to contact his parents, one of whom is a GP, before he was arrested under the Mental Health Act.
It is claimed he was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment through the use of handcuffs to restrain him when he was conveyed to a garda station and held for nearly an hour before his parents arrived.
The man is suing the gardai and the State through his testamentary guardian and next friend.
His mother died in January 2012 over a year after the incident which
occurred near his grandparents' home.
It was claimed gardai were called to the scene on September 24, 2010, after a member of the public saw him chase two women with a large stick or the branch of a tree, although neither woman was actually struck.
His High Court action is for false imprisonment, intentional trespass to the person, negligence and breach of duty.
Mr Justice Gerard Hogan was asked by the State parties, who deny the claims, to first determine whether the man was entitled to a trial by judge and jury, rather than before a judge sitting alone.
Today, Mr Justice Hogan ruled he was entitled to a jury trial in relation to his negligence and breach of duty claim but he said the issues of legality of his arrest and detention will be "exclusively matters" for the trial judge and not the jury.
The judge said it would be appropriate that a jury would deal with, for example, damages in relation to allegations of ill-tratment in custody while a judge alone would deal with the legality of the arrest which is a matter of objective law.
The judge noted evidence from his guardian that the man is extremely intellectually disabled and has a very limited ability to communicate.
When not attending an adult learning disability centre, he spends much of his days looking at horses as they gambol in a field adjoining his
grandparents' house, the judge said.
He rarely moves from this area when he is at home and repetitive behaviour of this kind is, apparently, a feature of his severely autistic condition, he said.
The incident in September 2010 occurred when he had taken up this "habitual position" outside his grandparents' home. When the man was identified by gardai as the person who had given chase to the two women, an officer who attempted to speak to him realised he was suffering from a mental condition and he was arrested under the Mental Health Act, handcuffed and brought by patrol car to the local station, the judge said.
Another officer at the station recognised him and his parents were contacted and arrived.
After the sergeant-in-charge was told the father was a GP and that his son did indeed suffer from severe autism, he was released.
It is contended no effort was made by the arresting garda to speak with either his father or mother, both of whom lived close by and that as a result of his detention in unusual surroundings, he was caused acute and unusual distress.