Judge lifts media gag in case of woman who has 648 convictions
A gagging order that banned press reports on new charges against one of Ireland's most prolific criminals has been lifted following a successful legal challenge by Independent News and Media.
Judge Carol Anne Coolican had prohibited reporting in the case of serial petty offender Jennifer Armstrong, whose latest charges are for allegedly smashing drinks bottles in a shop not long after she was given a suspended sentence for her 648th conviction.
The reporting restriction had been imposed at the request of Armstrong's lawyers, who claimed she had been the victim of a serious attack and any further media coverage of charges against her put her "in danger".
The ban had been in place for a week before it was lifted at Dublin District Court.
Armstrong (44), of no fixed address, has one of the longest criminal records ever seen in this country.
Irish Independent and 'Herald' articles last month reported how she was given a suspended sentence by Judge Coolican after racking up conviction number 648 for shoplifting wine.
Following the publication, Armstrong was arrested again and brought back before the court, this time charged with public drunkenness, threatening, abusive and insulting behaviour and damaging drinks bottles in a shop.
It was alleged she went to Centra, Shangan Road, Ballymun, on July 16 and when the manager refused to serve her alcohol because she was intoxicated, Armstrong became extremely aggressive.
It was alleged she picked up three bottles of wine and threw them at the manager, smashing them and a case of beer worth a total of €73.
Her solicitor at that hearing, Eoin Lysaght, later sought reporting restrictions, claiming Armstrong's address had been published along with her photo.
Subsequently, Kieran Kelly solicitor for Independent News and Media, applied to have the gagging order lifted.
Roy O'Neill solicitor, for Armstrong, argued the order had been "totally necessary and appropriate".
After the articles were published, he said, Armstrong had become "extremely upset," was worried about her safety and "living in fear".
Mr O'Neill said that some time ago, Armstrong was subject to an "extremely violent attack".
She believed that given the information published, "that individual is fully aware of where she is and who she is".
Should the case be reported, "I would be worried for Ms Armstrong's mental health," he added.
Mr Kelly submitted legal authorities and said there was no suggestion Armstrong would not receive a fair trial.
The articles were "entirely factual" and contained no address for the accused, as had been claimed by the defence, he said.
"The public are entitled to know and the media are entitled to print cases that come before the court," Mr Kelly said.
"Some of them are tough cases and some of them are hard cases, undoubtedly."
He also referred to the provisions for media reporting on the courts in the Constitution.
Judge Coolican said "very clear parameters" on the making of orders had been set out by the High Court.
Having considered these and the submissions made by both sides, she discharged her order.
Judge Coolican said Armstrong was receiving appropriate support in custody.
She further remanded the accused in custody for two weeks.