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Thursday 14 December 2017

Suspects must speak up now, warn lawyers

High Court president, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns
High Court president, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE President of the High Court has issued "guidance" to judges on how to deal with the potential fallout on criminal trials from the garda tapes controversy.

The guidance from Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns has been described as a "put up or shut up" warning by practising lawyers. They say suspects facing trial must raise the issue of suspected phone taping now – otherwise, they will forfeit the right to raise it at a later stage in the trial.

The judge's statement came as a solicitor who represented Limerick gangland figure John Dundon said he would be seeking a review of his client's conviction for the murder of rugby player Shane Geoghegan.

The Government had already warned of potential turmoil in the justice system over fears that court cases – both ongoing and historic – could be challenged on the basis that defence teams had not been made aware of relevant, and possibly illegal, telephone recordings.

However, legal experts say suspects face challenges proving a causal link between their conviction and any possible intercepts.

A small number of trials have been adjourned this week at the non-jury Special Criminal Court and Central Criminal Court to ascertain if cases were affected by recent revelations.

The garda tapes controversy has the potential to seriously disrupt trials, especially in the Central Criminal Court, where serious offences including murder, manslaughter and rape are tried.

This is because it can take up to a year or more to reschedule trials that are adjourned or cannot proceed because of a lack of judges.


Special Criminal Court judge Mr Justice Paul Butler explained yesterday that Mr Justice Kearns had suggested that the court should initially seek clarification and information from counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

"Thereafter, the court shall give the defendants representatives to make any representations they deem fit," said Judge Butler.

Meanwhile, the Special Criminal Court adjourned a trial to allow time for defence lawyers to consider requesting an independent expert assessment of two Tipperary garda stations in light of the recent revelations about the recording of phone calls. However, the court ruled that the trial of two Limerick men accused of IRA membership should proceed.

That trial was adjourned on Wednesday but the court ruled yesterday morning that it had heard "positive" and "impressive" evidence that neither of the garda stations involved were part of the systematic recording of telephone calls.

Separately, a judge also asked barristers for the parties in an upcoming trial if there were any issues with respect to the issue of garda telephone recordings.

The details of the trial cannot be published for legal reasons.

Barristers told the court that in this case they did not believe the issue of recordings of telephone conversations at garda stations would be an issue in this case.

The Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, has written to its members expressing the society's "shock" that telephone conversations to and from a large number of garda stations were recorded over a period of decades.

"Citizens seeking legal advice from their solicitor need to be assured that their rights are protected and any abuse of these rights must be identified as quickly as possible," said society president John P Shaw.

Irish Independent

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