THOUSANDS of people facing criminal charges could walk away scot free from court because of defective summonses.
Tens of thousands of summonses arising from garda investigations are at risk because of the apparent legal defect.
Criminal lawyers around the country are now expected to use the apparent loophole on behalf of clients, with the High Court waiting in the wings to rule on the issues surrounding the crux.
The problem emerged at Ballinasloe District Court on Thursday where a Co Galway solicitor successfully argued that a judge had no jurisdiction to deal with summonses issued by the Central Administration Processing Unit (CPU) of the Courts Service.
The CPU processes all summonses applied for by gardai, the Director of Public Prosecutions and Attorney General and automatically dispatches them to accused individuals.
But in written submissions, solicitor Gearoid Geraghty argued on behalf of a number of clients that their summonses were invalid as they had been issued by the unit.
Mr Geraghty's clients had initially been summoned to appear at the Ballinasloe Court on November 5 to answer a number of alleged offences.
The cases had been adjourned to Thursday's sitting of the court to allow Mr Geraghty to make his submissions.
The solicitor told Judge Geoffrey Browne that the summonses purported to be issued under section 1 of the Courts (No 3) Act 1986.
But the purpose of that section was to outline the alleged offences, the name and address of the alleged person and the details of the proposed court hearing at which he would be accused.
The section, however, gave no power to the CPU to issue a summons, Mr Geraghty said. As such, any summons issued by the CPU could not be deemed to be a summons duly applied for and issued.
The State did not make counter written submissions and Judge Browne held with Mr Geraghty.
He adjourned the cases against Mr Geraghty's clients to April 22 to allow time for the DPP to consider his position.
The decision of the Ballinasloe court is now being examined by the office of the DPP, but yesterday a spokesperson said that the DPP would not be commenting on the matter.