Monday 26 September 2016

Amid the usual teen court dramas, a case that will shock the nation

Published 05/12/2015 | 02:30

Tallaght District Court
Tallaght District Court
Judge Patricia McNamara who heard the case at Tallaght District Court

The voice of the teenage boy was barely audible. Glancing back nervously at his mother and father, the schoolboy asked Judge Patricia McNamara, presiding over the children's court list at Tallaght District Court, if he could speak to his parents.

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The professional, middle-class couple, who seemed at sea in a court that all too frequently processes the life and crimes of troubled children in care, in turn looked to their barrister Conor McKenna for support.

"Can I stay in this court, judge? the boy asked Judge McNamara as his parents nodded a sorrowful approval.

For more than an hour before the couple and their son entered court, Judge McNamara had dealt with a routine procession of tracksuit-clad boys, some already in custody, living in care or battling alcohol and drug problems.

One 16-year-old had no adult guardian present. Another, supported by his granny, stood accused of taking part in an assault that left two people with skull fractures.

One teen up on a public order charge had 14 previous convictions and Judge McNamara issued a bench warrant for another teen who didn't appear.

Then, one by one, four well-dressed teenage boys from an upmarket South County Dublin suburb were brought before Judge McNamara.

Five teenagers in all stand accused of having sex last year with a then 15-year old girl at her home during an impromptu house party.

Three of the accused boys are 16, one is 17, while the other is 18. They were all charged with the defilement of a named female child under the age of 17. All five live in Rathfarnham and were juveniles at the time of the alleged offences on March 14, 2014.

Last month, Judge McNamara heard that the young girl, who drank a bottle of vodka bought for her in a local Lidl, alleges that each of the boys had pulled down her leggings and underwear and had sex with her individually at her home.

"Line up, guys," is what the girl says she heard a male voice say before she had sex with the fourth boy. She says she was scared and could not physically say no,

Yesterday, Judge McNamara ruled on whether the charges should remain in the judge only District Court or be sent forward for jury trial to the Circuit Court where more serious penalties apply on conviction.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had directed that the three 16-year-olds be tried in the District Court where the maximum prison term, if any, is less than a year.

In the case of the 17 and 18-year-olds, the DPP directed summary trial in the District Court only if there was a guilty plea - otherwise they would be sent for jury trial.

Jurisdiction can make a big difference: the youths face up to five years if convicted on indictment following a jury trial.

Yesterday, four of the five teens (none of whom have indicated a plea) were brought individually before Judge McNamara, who spoke to them in compassionate and clear terms.

In deciding whether to accept jurisdiction, the judge faced a delicate task of weighing the seriousness of the single charge against each of the boys against their age and level of maturity as well as other factors including the age and position of the young complainant.

Of particular concern to the judge is the prospect of the teenage boys (as distinct from their lawyers or legal experts) viewing the contents of a DVD of the girl making a statement to gardai some six weeks after the alleged offences.

Judge McNamara, citing the recent implementation of the EU's Victims Directive, told the parties, including the office of the DPP, of her concerns should the boys, who are known to each other, be permitted to view the DVD. In the case of the three 16-year-olds, Judge McNamara said that she was satisfied not to defer from the DPP's recommendations for summary trial in the District Court.

However, a solicitor for one of the 16-year-olds said he believed it was prudent to engage the opinion of counsel before deciding whether to elect for the District or Circuit Court, given the seriousness of the charge.

One by one, the teens entered the witness box, their parents or guardians seated close at hand.

The 17-year-old accused, aged 15 at the time of the alleged offence, attended court with his mother. He is mere months older than the younger trio and Judge McNamara queried whether there were any aggravating factors which led to the DPP's recommendations that this boy (the alleged fourth in line) should have his case dealt with in the District Court on a guilty plea only.

Gardai agreed that there were no particular aggravating factors against this accused and Judge McNamara accepted jurisdiction despite the DPP's recommendation. The final decision on whether the 17-year-old will elect for trial in the District or Circuit Court will be made early next year.

The fifth and final accused, now 18, was excused from yesterday's hearing.

No alleged facts against him have yet been led in evidence, but the DPP has directed summary disposal in the District Court on a plea of guilty only.

All five boys have been remanded on bail until early next year.

Irish Independent

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