THE Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) has been forced to reschedule a series of appeals, including those of sex attacker Anthony Lyons and former priest and serial child abuser Tony Walsh, after a senior judge became seriously ill.
It is understood that High Court judge Mr Justice Michael Hanna (60) is in an induced coma in Spain.
Mr Justice Hanna's illness comes as the legal profession is mourning the death of retired circuit court judge Frank O'Donnell, a former president of the Law Society.
Judge O'Donnell (72), one of the first solicitors appointed to the bench, was last night described as a "trailblazer" by the Bar Council, the ruling body for barristers.
Belfast-born Judge Hanna, a father of four, appointed to the High Court in 2004, fell ill in Spain before Christmas and is expected to remain in hospital for at least another month.
This has required some appeals before the three-judge CCA to be rescheduled.
Yesterday, the Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham told the CCA that Judge Hanna – a brother of the late BBC 'Newsnight' journalist Vincent Hanna – was seriously ill and would probably require a lengthy period of convalescence.
Judge Denham said that Judge Hanna was a member of the CCA in a number of cases where judgment has been reserved.
In these circumstances, she said the most appropriate resolution was to reconstitute the relevant courts of appeal and re-hear the appeals.
Last November the CCA found that the six-month custodial sentence imposed on businessman Lyons (52) for a violent sexual assault was "unduly lenient" but reserved the reasons for its judgment and later reserved its decision on what sentence should be imposed in its place.
Caroline Biggs SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, told Judge Denham that although there was deemed to be an error in principle in the case, the State was awaiting the reasons for that decision as well as an indication of what the appropriate penalty should be.
Judge Denham said the presiding judge in the case again wanted to hear the matter as soon as possible.
She asked that counsel determine a suitable date and relay a view on how the case may proceed to the court registrar.
The family of Lyons's victim said that they were sorry to hear of the judge's illness.
"Our prayers go out to the judge and his family at this time," they said.
"We are unsure what will happen at this stage, and are waiting until counsel for both sides meet on the matter to see where things might go from here. We will just have to wait and see what happens, and don't know at this stage if the appeal will have to be heard again."
In the case of Tony Walsh (59), who is appealing against separate sentences of 16 years and 15 months imposed on him for the rape and sexual abuse of young boys in the 1970s and 1980s, the CCA reserved judgment last July. Judge Denham asked counsel on both sides to discuss the matter and indicate to the court registrar what dates they are free.
Other cases affected include that of a 52-year-old man appealing against a life sentence imposed on him in December 2011 for raping four of his daughters.
While the case brought by Dublin criminal Brian Rattigan (32), who is seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, may also have to be re-heard.
The appeal court yesterday fixed February 14 for the re-hearing of an appeal against conviction brought by brothers Warren (39) and Jeffrey Dumbrell (33), who were jailed for life for the murder of Christopher Cawley (33) outside his home in Inchicore.
Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor