High Court judge frees jailed water charges protesters
Four water charges protesters jailed for contempt of court have been released from custody with immediate effect.
At a previous hearing, Bernie Hughes, Damien O'Neill, Paul Moore and Derek Byrne were all found in contempt of court.
Judge Paul Gilligan ordered them to be committed to prison for breaching orders not to interfere with water meter installers GMC Sierra.
Ms Hughes and Mr Byrne were each sentenced to 28 days in prison.
Mr O'Neill and Mr Moore were sentenced to 56 days in prison.
Read more here: Jailed water charge protesters challenge lawfulness of detention
The Dubliners returned to the High Court today to take a habeus corpus case, challenging the legal basis for the court ruling.
In last few minutes, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns granted their application on the basis that the committal warrant was "lacking in a number of key respects."
He said while some may see these "flaws, errors or omissions in a committal warrant as merely technical in nature", they are "critical" under the Irish constitution.
Following the ruling, there was loud and prolonged applause from a small group of up to 15 supporters in court.
Speaking to independent.ie, Bernie Hughes said she was "delighted" with the outcome.
"I was very hopeful we would be freed because we found a flaw in the law in a legal document.
"We were all prepared. I will continue to protest peacefully, as I have for the last year.
"We have been vindicated. The 20 metre exclusion zone needs to be taken away."
Micheal P O'Higgins SC, for Bernie Hughes and Damien O'Neill, argued his clients' detention is "unlawful" because of "fundamental defects."
While there is "no suggestion" that Judge Gilligan was "unfair" in his ruling, the application is based on the contention that the warrant for committal and detention was "defective."
Mr O'Higgins contended that the warrant "failed to set out the basis of the findings of contempt, and the steps that are necessary in order to purge their contempt."
"We acknowledge the trial judge did nothing wrong. Our point is to the enforcement of the trial judge's orders, and the deficiencies of the warrant."
However, in his opening address, Sean Gillane SC, appearing for the governor of Wheatfield Prison, said sight cannot be lost that the applicants are "sentenced prisoners."
"They are guilty. They have had a full trial," he said.
"Having been afforded all of their rights in that context, no appeal, which was open to them, has been launched by any of the applicants."
He described the application as "technical to the point of opportunistic, in relation to the criticism of the paper work, as opposed to any criticism of how the applicants were treated."
Before proceedings began shortly after 11.15am, Bernie Hughes, dressed in a pink cardigan and floral scarf, appeared in up-beat mood as she sat in the dock flanked by three members of the Irish Prison Service.
She smiled and chatted with Michael Batty of Edenmore Avenue, Raheny, who mingled with a small group of up to 15 water charges protestors gathered in court.
The four male applicants were in handcuffs as they were led by prison guards into the court.
Plain clothes and uniformed gardai maintain a constant presence throughout the hearing.
Mr Batty was also ordered to be committed to prison for 28 days, as a result of breaching orders not to interfere with water meter installers, GMC Sierra.
However, a stay was put on a prison order against him, until today, as he was abroad for health reasons.
The great-grandfather sent a letter to the court apologising for his absence.
The Raheny resident explained how, as a chronic asthmatic, he had gone abroad to a hot and dry climate, which helps his condition.
It is understood Mr Batty has now agreed to abide by the court orders, and is prepared to give an undertaking to sign a bond not to breach any injunction.
Dressed smartly in a blue shirt and grey suit, Mr Batty was in court for this morning's hearing.
His case is being heard this afternoon in the Criminal Courts of Justice.