Thursday 14 December 2017

DPP has six weeks to decide on protest trial

Stephen Bennett
Stephen Bennett

Tom Tuite

A JUDGE has given the DPP a six-week deadline to decide the trial venue in the case of a protester charged with obstructing Irish Water.

Stephen Bennett (42) of Pearse Green, Sallynoggin, had been charged in October under the Water Service Act 2007, for obstructing the company exercising its powers, on October 21 last, at Villa Park Gardens, Cabra, Dublin 7.

His legal team have claimed this is a test case and among the first prosecutions to be brought under the Water Service Act.

Directions from the DPP need to be obtained to determine if the activist's case should be dealt with at district court level or go forward for trial on indictment in the circuit court.

The maximum penalty in the district court is a €5,000 fine and a possible jail term of up to three months, whereas the circuit court has wider sentencing powers: a fine not exceeding €15m or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both.

He appeared again yesterday at Dublin District Court where Judge Anthony Halpin was told that the DPP's directions were still not available.

The State was seeking a six-week adjournment but defence solicitor Cahir O'Higgins objected.

He argued that the case has been before the court since October 22 and the State should withdraw it or the court should strike it out.

A State solicitor said the garda file was received last month and "it is being treated very seriously".

Substantial disclosure had also been provided to the defence, the prosecution lawyer said.

Judge Halpin acceded to the prosecution's request for an adjournment but he also said that the case would be peremptory against the State.

He said he had to concede that it is not a huge decision to make in relation to whether it was a minor offence or one of such magnitude it should be sent to the circuit court.

His order means the DPP must have directions ready when the case resumes in April, otherwise it could be struck out.

Earlier, the court had ordered disclosure of video evidence, footage on camcorders of Irish Water workers, to the defence.

Mr Bennett, who is unemployed, was remanded on continuing bail.

Previously, the defence had said it was a test case which raised constitutional arguments.

Irish Independent

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