Businessman fails to halt trial but start date put on hold by judge
BUSINESSMAN Breifne O'Brien has lost his High Court bid to have his trial for offences including theft and deception permanently blocked.
Mr O'Brien (51), of Kilmore, Monkstown Grove, Monkstown, Dublin, claimed that he cannot get a fair trial because of significant amounts of adverse publicity he has received in both the print and broadcast media.
In his ruling yesterday, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, while clearing the way for the trial to go ahead, said that Mr O'Brien's trial should be put on hold for 12 months.
This was due to reservations he had about the trial proceedings "in the immediate future" due to the media coverage Mr O'Brien had received.
Mr O'Brien, who denies all of the charges against him, has been sent forward for trial before a judge and jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
The DPP opposed the application.
Mr O'Brien is accused of 19 charges of theft involving sums totalling around €11m from five individuals between 2006 and 2008. Another 19 charges involve alleged deception of the same people. A further seven charges of deception involving €1.9m relate to one of those five people between 2003 and 2008.
In his High Court action, Mr O'Brien wanted the court to permanently halt his prosecution. In his judgment, Mr Justice Kearns said that it was "undeniable" that there been "extensive factual and emotional publicity concerning Mr O'Brien".
"In any liberal democracy the press and media must be free to expose alleged wrongdoing," the judge said.
He added it was questionable how much remained in the minds of the tv viewers who watched broadcasts about Mr O'Brien, adding that many ongoing drama series require reminders as to what happened in previous episodes, suggesting "viewers' memories for previously seen material is decided limited".
However, given the nature and volume of the newspaper and tv reporting about Mr O'Brien, the judge said that if the trial was to start any time soon it would be "characterised as carrying a significant risk of being unfair".
He directed that the trial should be stayed for 12 months from the date of the ruling.
He also said that Mr O'Brien was not precluded from bringing a further application to the High Court if there were to be any further significant adverse publicity.