Byrne trial should inspire confidence in legal system
THE prosecution and conviction of former solicitor Thomas Byrne has, in the words of trial judge Patrick McCartan, given "great confidence" that juries can deal with complex trials. The endorsement of the jury system comes at a time when jury summonses will be sent to 1,500 citizens ahead of the prosecution of three former Anglo Irish Bank executives.
The Byrne conviction has also restored badly needed faith in the ability of the State, through the aegis of the Garda Fraud Bureau, to amass evidence that meets the higher criminal burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Such confidence in the investigation and prosecution of corporate crime, combined with faith in the integrity and community intelligence of the jury system, are qualities that are desperately required as the courts and ordinary citizens selected to serve as jurors are tasked to deal with the fallout of the financial crisis.
Judge McCartan, who ran the Byrne trial in a meticulous fashion, praised the jurors – whom he described as "unique" – for their attention during the 27-day trial, the longest theft trial in the history of the State.
Asked to consider some 50 charges totalling almost €52m, the prosecution of Byrne is the largest-ever (by quantum) white-collar criminal trial in the history of the State.
The trial marked many firsts.
It was also the first to digitally display exhibits on computer screens throughout the courtroom and jurors were assisted in their task with individual laptops to follow the electronic displays of evidence and poster-sized diagrams to explain the frauds.
The men and women of the jury, presented with two separate modules, deliberated for more than 17 hours before returning their unanimous verdicts on all 50 counts.
The ability of jurors to handle complex and lengthy fraud trials led to recent changes in the law allowing for the appointment of three extra jurors in such cases.
But a swallow does not a summer make and much more needs to be done to ensure the system is robust enough to restore public confidence in the State's ability and determination to prosecute white-collar crime.