March 16, 2007 / 1:28 PM / 11 years ago

Begging for free speech

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland’s High Court struck down a 19th century law against begging on Thursday, ruling in favor of a beggar who had argued that his arrest violated a right to free speech, broadcaster RTE reported.

Justice Eamon De Valera rejected the argument made by Niall Dillon that the law discriminated between rich and poor.

But the judge agreed that a section of the Vagrancy Act of 1847, enacted during the Great Famine, was unconstitutional because it interfered with the rights of freedom of expression and freedom to communicate with other people.

Dillon was arrested for begging in Dublin in 2003 and charged under the law. Following the ruling, his prosecution can no longer go ahead.

Prime Minister Bertie Ahern unveiled plans in 2004 to repeal thousands of English and British laws -- some dating back to William the Conqueror in the 11th century -- that were enacted prior to Irish Independence in 1922 and remain in force.

More obscure acts such as one from the 12th century forbidding monks “to receive men unless their reputation is known” and another banning Jews from owning chain mail will be struck off the statute books altogether.

Those with continued relevance today will be replaced by more up-to-date laws.

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