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Shell to Sea Court Cases - Belmullet 12th December 2007

Shell to Sea Court Cases - Belmullet 12th December 2007
mayo | crime and justice | news report Sunday December 16, 2007 23:38 by Rudiger
A summary of the Shell to Sea related cases from Belmullet District court last Wednesday the 12th of December.
Last Wednesday in court in Belmullet, 11 people were up in cases relating to the Shell to Sea campaign. First up the case of the 3 people charged with obstruction on the day of action on the 9th of November, was adjourned till the 9th of January when it will be heard. Next up was the case of Ed Collins who is charged in relation to an incident which occurred on the 10th of November 2006. The prosecution initially sought to have the case adjourned pending the outcome of a complaint that Mr Collins has before the Garda Complaints Board in relation to the issue. However, the solicitor for Mr Collins then pushed that the case be heard as quickly as possible. Judge Devins then set the 13th of Feb for hearing of this case after noting that it was the first time she had been pushed by the defence to expedite a case pending a complaint. One interesting moment was when Judge Devins stated, in response to Ed Collins deferentially calling her “Maam”, that she was neither a British army officer or an American court judge, she was in fact a district court judge. Next Judge Devins addressed the fact that 2 previous cases before her involving John Monaghan and a member of the Srahmore lock-on have been appealed. She noted that no application for a recognisance has been made and that one is required. This will be made in due course however it illustrated that the judge is following these cases closely behind the scenes and is ensuring that everything is being followed to the letter of the law. At some stage during the morning proceedings a mobile phone went off in court, whereupon Judge Devins demanded that the man come up in front of her. While the man apologised profusely, Judge Devins questioned the man on what he was doing in court. when he replied that he was just an observer she ordered that his phone be taken off him and he be escorted down to the garda station to appear before her after lunch. After the lunch break, the man appeared and again apologised profusely, this time however the apology was deemed acceptable and the man's phone was returned and he was set free. Next up was Niall Harnett who has been charged under Section 6 & 19 of the Public Order Act (breach of the peace and obstructing a garda) for an incident relating to the 22nd May of this year. Mr Harnett represented himself and initially made an application for a Garrydoyle order for all of the garda evidence in the case. However, Judge Devins stated that there should be no need for this and that Mr Harnett should just write to the gardai asking for their evidence. Judge Devins then set a date for hearing of the 12th of March. Mr Harnett then made an application that he be allowed to record the proceedings of his case with a digital audio recorder. Mr Harnett then laid out 7 grounds on why he felt that it was important that he be allowed to record his case (see attached application). Among these grounds were the fact that stenographers were prohibitively expensive to employ to record what was said in court and seeing as justice should equally be the preserve of both the rich and poor then we should avail of modern technology have a accurate record of what was said in court. He also pointed out that memory or notes of proceeding were liable to be inaccurate and also that a lot of the decisions of the District Court are just lost or forgotten about. He also stated that he had some concerns about what the Gardai might allege in this case and he wished that an accurate record of these allegations would be made. Although Judge Devins was impatient and asked if Mr Harnett was just making a speech, he continue on making his application. The prosecuting Superintendent stated that no Garda had given any evidence yet so for Mr Harnett to say that he had concerns was an unfounded accusation. Judge Devins then said she would consider the application and give her decision in Ballycroy court the following day. Mr Harnett then just asked the judge to consider his evidence before making her decision. Judge Devins responded that she always makes her judgement based on the evidence before her and that Mr Harnett comment were “verging on the insulting” and she asked him to withdraw his remarks. Mr Harnett stated that he felt he hadn’t said anything that was in any way insulting to the judge. Judge Devins then said she would give Mr Harnett over lunch to think over the matter. However after lunch Judge Devins stated that she would be disregarding any remark Mr Harnett had made because she now accepted that no offence was meant. Next the cases of Martin & Pat O’Donnell, Patrick Coyle and Michael Healy who are charged under Section 19.3 of the Public Order Act and a Section 2 assault were heard. First of all the timeline of events that led to the 4 men being charged was raised with the defence seeking the charges to be dismissed. The timeline is that the incident occurred on the 19th January 2007, and all garda statements were made by the following day. The investigating officer and the senior officer present at the scene, Inspector Pat McHugh then waited until the 17th May before he submitted the case to Supt Joe Gannon, who sent it to the DPP thereafter. In the meantime some of the 4 men had initiated a civil action against the gardaí relating to the issue and the gardaí in Mayo were notified about this civil action on the 16th of March, a month before the investigating officer completed his case file. Solicitor for the 4 men, Alan Gannon questioned Insp. McHugh why it had taken him just short of 4 months to complete his investigations. Insp. McHugh stated that he had been transferred around a lot in those 4 months and he hadn’t had a chance to complete the file. Insp McHugh stated that he hadn’t heard of the civil case the men had initiated regarding the incident until about 10-12 days ago and so it had no baring on him finishing off his investigations of the incident. Alan Gannon questioned whether it was not strange that the investigating officer of a case would not be informed about a civil case regarding the same events. Insp McHugh however restated that he had only heard about the civil case recently. Alan Gannon then raised the issue about the offences his clients had been charged under and that it seemed that the offences were picked so that the case could be heard in the District Court. He also stated that given the fact a previous case involving Shell to Sea protests had been dropped once it reached the Circuit Court that it seemed that the DPP would have the perception that there is a lower burden of proof in the District Court. Summing up the issues regarding the bringing of the case, Alan Gannon stated that he couldn’t see how the senior officer of the day wouldn’t be informed on the bringing of a civil action for that day. Judge Devins however stated that Insp McHugh had sworn under oath that he hadn’t known about the civil case until recently and had also explained the reasons for his delay in completing the case file. So she said she had to accept this. Judge Devins also said that while the charges laid against the 4 men “could be described in academic circles as overcharging”, that the DPP must have seen fit to press the charges so she couldn’t dismiss the charges. The case was then adjourned till the 9th Jan as Alan Gannon wanted time for a video expert to examine a Garda video tape as Garda Greg Burke has claimed his video recorder was accidentally “switched to standby mode” for 7 minutes during which time the incident allegedly occurred. The final Shell to Sea cases was the case of Sean & Maura Harrington who were up for an incident relating to the visit of Mary McAleese to Belmullet last May. The court was also told that Ms Harrington had been handed two further summons that morning outside the court one of which relates to Pollathomas Pier on the 11th June, however these 2 cases were adjourned till the 9th of Jan for mention. Alan Gannon then made an application on behalf of Maura Harrington who wanted to have a record of the proceedings of her case. Mr Gannon stated that Maura Harrington was willing to pay for expenses involved making the proceedings available to her or would also be willing to employ a stenographer of her own. When asked by Judge Devins why she felt the need to a record of the proceedings Ms Harrington stated that she considered it important to have a exact copy of proceedings in any case in which she was involved. Judge Devins then stated that the stenographer who was present was asked for by the Court Service and the record was for the Court Service and not for anyone else. Judge Devins then stated she would make the ruling on this application in Ballycroy the following day. The following day in Ballycroy Judge Devins refuses both the applications of Niall Harnett and Maura Harrington to have recordings of their cases. With regard to Niall Harnetts application she stated that it would be “potentially unsafe “ for people to make their own recordings of the court cases. Also for both application she stated that there were no exceptional circumstances in either of the cases and their constitutional rights would be protect by the existing safeguards. She adjourned Sean & Maura Harrington’s case till the 9th January for mention. On a personal level I think it an absolute disgrace that a person involved in a district court case can’t get a copy of the proceedings of a case they are involved in. It seems obvious with the recent appearance of a Court Service stenographer in cases related to Shell to Sea that Judge Devins is happy to have a copy of proceedings for herself but won’t afford this right to the people who appear before her. Surely if justice needs to be done and also needs to
be seen to be done, then people should have the right to an accurate record of what is said about them in court.
Related Link:
Niall Harnett Application to Record in Court 0.01 Mb

Posted Date: 
3 January 2008 - 1:32pm