Monday 16 July 2018

Judge Patricia Smyth presided over trial surrounded by media and social media frenzy with a cool hand

Crowds outside Belfast's Laganside Court following the court verdict (Photo: Mark Condren)
Crowds outside Belfast's Laganside Court following the court verdict (Photo: Mark Condren)
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

AMID a pressure cooker environment rare in its intensity, this would have been no easy trial for any judge.

At the heart of it all was a ‘vulnerable’ witness who was facing the relentless probing at the hands of no less than four legal teams on the behalf of the defence pushing things as far as they could be pushed under law.

There was the disturbing and often graphic nature of the evidence. There was the never ceasing public, media and social media frenzy - particularly following the attendance of Ireland captain Rory Best – which all had to be carefully monitored to ensure that it complied with the obligations to ensure a fair trial. There were the numerous lengthy delays and bouts of legal argument, the loss of a juror due to stress and the threatened loss of another due to illness followed by the pressure put on the trial by another juror who had booked a holiday.

All these facts, combined with the nine week duration of the trial all went towards creating a level of stress that was almost unique.

And yet Judge Patricia Smyth time and time again proved herself to be entirely capable of keeping her hands coolly on the reins.

Appointed to the bench in 2010, she is only one a handful of female members of the judiciary in the north. As a junior counsel, she was part of the legal team representing the families in the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

Softly spoken and at all times measured and courteous, she was nevertheless most determined in the running of this trial. It was clear she would everything in her power to avoid the possibility of a mistrial  - even down to allowing the defence barristers to make several amendments and suggestions to her final direction to the jury.

At one stage when it emerged that a northern publication had printed something deemed inaccurate, Judge Patricia Smyth warned the 12-person jury panel not to carry out independent research into the case online, cautioning them against the opinions of “fireside lawyers.”

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