Thursday 8 December 2016

Senior judge surprised at not being consulted over bail changes

Published 02/02/2016 | 02:30

Judge Butler, the lead judge on the Special Criminal Court, said the new rules 'may turn out to be good, bad or indifferent'
Judge Butler, the lead judge on the Special Criminal Court, said the new rules 'may turn out to be good, bad or indifferent'

One of the country's most senior criminal law judges has expressed surprise that he was not consulted about major changes to High Court bail procedures.

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Yesterday Mr Justice Paul Butler, who presides over High Court bail applications, announced he would no longer be in charge of the weekly list of cases.

It is understood the High Court bail list will shortly be taken over by newly appointed High Court President Mr Justice Peter Kelly, who introduced the new rules late last week after spending time covering the list himself.

Judge Butler, who thanked lawyers for acting in the best interests of their clients, said that "for better or for worse" the new "regime change" was introduced "without reference to or consultation with me".

Judge Butler, the lead judge on the Special Criminal Court, said the new rules "may turn out to be good, bad or indifferent", adding that the changes reminded him of the non-binding remarks of the late Chief Justice Cearbhail Ó Dálaigh "to the effect that the rules of court are servants of justice, not its master".

Occupants of the court burst into spontaneous applause at his remarks.

There are fears the new regime could delay applications for bail as they may lead to suspects being detained in custody for longer periods as they seek to comply with the new requirements.

Under the practice direction issued late last week, suspects seeking bail will have to personally swear the court statement (affidavit) grounding their application for release pending trial. At present, due to their incarceration, High Court bail applications are, for the most part, sworn by their solicitors.

However, it is feared that, under the new rules, it may take much longer for solicitors to consult with clients and to draw up affidavits which must then be sworn by a solicitor from another firm.

From Monday next, the Central Office of the High Court will not provide a court date for a bail hearing unless an application - with 12 strict requirements - is sworn by the suspect seeking bail.

Motivated

Legal experts fear the revised process could delay a full bail hearing for suspects by up to two to three weeks.

Under the new rules, the days for hearing Dublin and "country" bails will be changed.

Remand prisoners detained in Dublin prisons will not be allowed to adjourn their cases to a day that non-Dublin prisoners are being dealt with; similar rules will apply to prisoners detained in prisons outside of Dublin. This move is said to be motivated by concerns for the welfare of prisoners spending long periods of time in prison vans or cells as they await their bail cases, which are often adjourned, to be heard.

The Law Society was not consulted in advance about the new regime.

Irish Independent

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