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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 12 Oct 1999

Vol. 509 No. 1

Other Questions. - Court Accommodation

Michael Ring


59 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason a video link room was not available in a recent court case (details supplied) which led to the dismissal of charges. [19670/99]

Alan Shatter


99 Mr. Shatter asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the investigation, if any, conducted into the criminal case at the beginning of July 1999 in which charges were struck out against an accused charged with having had unlawful carnal knowledge of a child due to there being no courtroom with a video link available to hear the case; and the steps, if any, taken to ensure no such difficulty arises in the future. [17304/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 and 99 together.

The House will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on a judicial decision. The circumstances surrounding this case, however, are a source of concern to me given that the video link facility is such an essential element in the hearing of these very sensitive cases. Accordingly, I decided at the time to initiate an immediate and urgent review of the video link capacity which is available in our courts.

When this case came before the Circuit Criminal Court last July, there were four courtrooms in the Four Courts fitted for video link trials. Three of these courtrooms have jury facilities which are necessary for trials of this nature. Unfortunately, one of these courtrooms could not be used because of technical difficulties which have since been rectified. The other two courtrooms were in use. Court No. 16 was being used for a High Court sitting on the day in question. Court No. 12 was not suitable for use as a jury courtroom as both the courtroom and the jury room were in use for the storage of documents relevant to a lengthy civil case which was ongoing in that courtroom. I am informed that this is not a usual situation but had been approved by the civil trial judge who is responsible for the conduct of the trial and all aspects of it. It is perhaps less than ideal that a judge did not have convenient alternative accommodation available to him. My Department has been in contact with the chief executive officer designate of the Courts Service and I have been assured that steps are being taken to address the current situation and to ensure that there is no repetition of these events.

As a result of the review I initiated, I am pleased to inform the House that two additional courtrooms with jury facilities have now been fitted out to hear video link cases. This brings the total number available to six. I am also arranging for the necessary staff to be in place to supervise and generally look after the witnesses who will be using these additional facilities. In addition, my Department is considering the possibility of extending the video link facility to a number of provincial locations. I assure the House that this matter will be kept under regular review to avoid a repetition.

(Mayo): Is the Minister aware that the charges involved alleged serious sexual assault against an underage girl – which obviously caused a lot of grief in itself – and that the grief and trauma were considerably added to when the case was unceremoniously thrown out of court? I appreciate the Minister cannot comment on judicial decisions. However, has he or his officials established the reason a new trial was not ordered in this case, or that a deferment or an adjournment was not sought until such time as adequate video link facilities were put in place?

I am aware, as Deputy Higgins pointed out, that a serious sexual assault case was involved here. I am also very aware that the fact the case was struck out by the judge caused a great deal of grief. I feel for the victim in that respect, and my deepest sympathy goes to the victim and her family.

The issue of whether there can be a new prosecution is, as the Deputy will understand, a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions who is, of course, independent in the exercise of his functions. I have every confidence that the Director of Public Prosecutions will exercise his judgment to the best of his professional ability.