Charges in Jobstown trial were 'over the top', says solicitor
Kidnappers and rapists normally accused of false imprisonment, claims criminal lawyer
False imprisonment charges brought against the Jobstown demonstrators were "over the top" for a "highly untoward" public protest, according to criminal solicitor Frank Buttimer.
Mr Buttimer said such charges implied a degree of criminality and intent that would more usually be associated with serious crimes such as kidnapping.
"To imprison someone falsely is normally associated with a high degree of criminality, such as in cases of kidnapping or rape, where there is a conscious and deliberate act behind the event which is the subject of prosecution," he said.
"This was a highly untoward, over-the-top public protest.
"It is very hard to imagine that one or more of that group set out consciously and deliberately to falsely detain people.
"When you pitch the alleged offences at the level of criminality proposed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the prospects of a conviction must have been extremely limited."
Mr Buttimer said the Public Order Act addressed the type of misbehaviour at public protests, and prosecuting those offences did not require a decision from the DPP.
"There are at least three offences under the Public Order Act that would have been appropriate to the circumstances," he said.
"Section 9 covers interrupting the free flow of traffic while Section 6 covers aggressive, abusive or insulting words or behaviour. Section 8 is failure to obey a direction of a garda to leave the scene of a public order event."
Gardai also have extensive powers of arrest under the Public Order Act, allowing them to detain and charge suspected offenders immediately or alternatively apply for a summons within six months of the alleged offence taking place.
Mr Buttimer said the question had to be asked "whether appropriate consideration was given to dealing with these matters summarily in the District Court, by initiating the appropriate legal charges".
He said people were acquitted all the time in criminal trials, when appropriate charges were brought against them in the appropriate courts. However, a question arose in this case as to whether the appropriate charges were prosecuted in the appropriate court.
"There is also a question as to how the situation escalated from routine crowd control to the case it became in the criminal courts," Mr Buttimer added.
"Joan Burton may have made an allegation in which it was implicitly or explicitly stated to gardai that she was falsely imprisoned. If she did, that would have had to have been investigated and a file would have had to have gone to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
"However, a criminal complaint does not necessarily have to result in a prosecution for the matter complained of."
The DPP is not obliged to account for decisions made by her office.