“’Disciple of Jesus Christ’ is not an occupation, Irish High Court rules” was the headline. I clicked the link to read the latest attack on religious rights. I found instead an opinion on something completely different.
Peter and Agniezka Nowak sought to quash a determination of the Residential Tenancies Board which, among other things, set their rent. Peter Nowak submitted an affidavit with the introductory statement “I, Peter Nowak, A DISCIPLE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST of
Order 40, r. 9 provides in pertinent part that “Every affidavit shall state the description and true place of abode of the deponent”. This reflects an approach going back to that pursuant to the Rules under the Supreme Court of Judicature (Ireland) Act 1877. The term “description” means “occupation”. Spaddacini v. Treacy (1888) 21 L.R. Ir. 553 is an interesting decision, involving the description and abode of two plaintiffs, the first a struck-off solicitor resident in Stillorgan Castle (now St. John of God’s) describing himself as “Esquire” and the other a grocer describing himself as a “gentleman”. Albeit in the context of a statutory requirement to specify trade, profession or occupation, Porter M.R. held that “gentleman” was not a sufficient description of a person (such as a grocer) who actually had an occupation. He observed that “No one has suggested that ‘human being’ would be the proper description”. Of course he had not met someone of Mr. Nowak’s inventiveness. (internal citations omitted)
Having hinted that this may not end well for the Nowaks. the Justice continued:
To my mind, fanciful descriptions such as “a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ” do not constitute a description (in the sense of occupation) envisaged by O. 40, r. 9. If such a mode of description were permitted, one could not stop the next deponent describing themselves in the opening of an affidavit as a “Guardian reader” or the one after that as a “keen golfer”, and so on. No reductio is however required because we are firmly in absurdum from the off. It is hard to know which the applicant’s affidavit trivialises more, religion or court procedure.
He then moved seamlessly to the practice pointer:
The Central Office was entirely correct in refusing to accept this affidavit. The solicitor who took it should not have allowed it to be sworn in that form. I trust that the message will get through in order to avoid a repetition.
Not surprisingly the Justice ruled against the Nowaks on all points and closed his discussion of the merits with a rhetorical flourish rare in judicial opinions:
The courts are not a playground in which litigants can amuse themselves at will. The State in all its manifestations may have enough time and patience to weather the efforts of frivolous litigants, but in an underlying private law context such as this, such conduct has a significant downstream effect on private persons such as the landlords in this case. For the court to bask in self-congratulatory patience for quirky insouciance [I had do look this up: it means nonchalance, indifference, etc.] on the part of applicants such as these . . . would be to play the role of a judicial free-rider . . . .Despite the natural preference for erring on the side of limitless indulgence, the balance of justice in such a situation calls for a more direct approach. I will hear the parties on whether any order should be considered limiting the applicants from engaging in future frivolous applications.
I wonder how that hearing will go.