Saturday 24 March 2018

Judge takes lawyers to task over 'personal exchanges'

David Young in Port Louis

Four days into the trial and the judge had clearly had enough.

"All of you stand up," Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah ordered the lawyers. "I want to address you."

Senior and junior defence and prosecution counsel sheepishly got to their feet. The rest of court fell silent -- a rarity in recent days in Port Louis's criminal court.

The latest judicial intervention in the Michaela McAreavey case came after a verbal bout between defence lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry and state prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan.

"I thought we had sorted this out," the exasperated judge said sternly, referring to previous admonishments.

"It was clear that these kind of personal exchanges are not going to be tolerated. I would ask Mr Teeluckdharry to contain yourself and your emotions and I would ask state to intervene (only) when it's strictly necessary."

If the previous day saw his junior counsel Ravi Rutnah hold centre stage, the fourth day of the trial had Mr Teeluckdharry in the role.

But there was little of the levity that had marked previous exchanges in courtroom five.

The bid by the senior defence barrister for accused Avinash Treebhoowoon to probe the sex life of the tragic Co Tyrone honeymooner unsettled many in court, with some visibly outraged by the line of questioning. The fractious wrangle that ensued with Mr Manrakhan saw court adjourned for a period.

Mrs McAreavey's sister-in-law Claire took the opportunity to step outside.

At the end of the day's hearing, Mr Teeluckdharry defended his approach, in one of the many ad hoc news conferences he and colleagues hold outside court during breaks in proceedings.

Restrictions on out-of-court commentary during trials do not appear overly stringent in Mauritius.

In another press interview in the yard of the Supreme Court Building, Mr Rutnah rejected claims that his cross-examination technique was overly flamboyant.

And he was not the lawyer who got the only discernible laugh in court earlier.

When questioning a police mapper on the dimensions of his drawings, Rama Valayden, counsel for co-accused Sandip Moneea, thought it appropriate to quip: "Size matters."


The turn of phrase brought the expected chortle from the public benches, but unlike other days it was not allowed to go unchecked.

Perhaps cognisant of adverse coverage in Ireland of the repeated outbursts in court, a clerk was swift to take action. "Shush," he hissed. "Silence."

The rain that poured down on Thursday gave way to intense sunshine on the last sitting of the trial's first week.

Some found it uncomfortably hot in court, the thick curtains that block out the windows behind the two impassive defendants acting like a warming blanket for the room.

Whether it was the heat or the temperature of the legal clashes with the prosecution, proceedings clearly had taken their toll on Mr Teeluckdharry.

When the judge indicated his intention to wrap up half an hour early at 3pm, he made a special request.

"Can we break at 2.30pm?" the lawyer enquired. "I am feeling exhausted."

Irish Independent

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