It’s the last day of the year and the end of the decade to boot. Time to take stock and look back over the last twelve months with mixed feelings…whatever else 2009 has been it’s seldom been boring. There have been opportunities and set backs but on the whole I think we’re going out with a bang. It may have been used as a curse in the past but I’d rather live in Interesting Times than dull ones!
In terms of the courts it’s been a very interesting year. In terms of both trials, and legislation that will affect both how I do my job and what happens in the trials I cover, there’s been a lot fitted into the past 12 months. I’ll try at touch the main points but feel free to comment if I’ve missed anything. I’ve linked back to my posts on the subject where they exist. With the longer trials the name of both the victim and the accused should be prominent in the tag cloud to the right.
The year started off quietly enough. In January Brian McBarron pleaded guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, nurse Sara Neligan, daughter of the prominent former consultant surgeon, Mr Maurice Neligan. Sara had planned to leave him so he stabbed her. He told gardai “she belonged to me.”
The same month serial child rapist Philip Sullivan had his life sentence overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeal.
In February, a familiar face, Kathleen Mulhall, mother of the infamous Scissor Sisters, pleaded guilty to concealing evidence about her daughters gruesome murder of their mother’s Kenyan boyfriend, Farah Swelah Noor. She was sentenced in May to five years in prison.
March began with the passing into law of the Legal Services Ombudsman Act 2009 setting up the office of Legal Services Ombudsman to oversee complaints by and about members of the legal profession. The office will also be responsible for making the public aware of what complaint procedures are available against solicitors and barristers.
In the Central Criminal Court a run of high profile murder trials began in March with that of Gerald Barry, the brutal killer and rapist who would be sentenced to life for the murder of Swiss student Manuela Riedo.
The Barry trial was swiftly followed by that of wife killer David Bourke. Bourke had murdered his wife, Jean Gilbert, when she left him for an old flame.
In April we entered the strange world of Ronnie Dunbar, the man on trial for the murder of Sligo teenager Melissa Mahon. Melissa herself was a waif like figure throughout the trial as we heard about her infatuation with Dunbar, also known as McManus. We heard how her short unhappy life spiralled out of control in a few months in 2006. Dunbar was eventually found guilty of her manslaughter and later sentenced to a life term.
After that run of trials things got a lot quieter in the courts. During the summer break I was working on my first novel and a world away from murder. During July though a rash of legal legislation was written into law that will definitely have an impact on the day job.
First up was the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act which controversially allows for covert surveillance to be used in prosecutions. This kind of evidence will undoubtedly become a major part of any gangland trials that come to court from now on.
A couple of weeks later the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act introduced new laws governing the owning and use of guns. Aimed at tackling violent crimes it also introduced new laws on knives and gave gardai greater search powers.
Hot on it’s heels came two highly discussed Acts. The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act allowed for gangland trials to take place without a jury in the Special Criminal Court (previously used only for paramilitary trials). The three Criminal Justice Acts will all have an effect on how gangland trials are conducted…it’ll be interesting.
Passing into law the same day as the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act was the long awaited Defamation Act. I’m not going to go into a full analysis of the new Act, which replaces the 1961 Act but there are a few points of difference. Slander and libel are no more, they’ve been replaced by the cover all term of defamation – which’ll make life easier for anyone studying law as part of a journalism course in the future. The act also allows a judge to direct a jury on the amount of damages they can award and allows the defendant to make submissions to mitigate damages.
But where the Defamation Act really hit the headlines was the controversial clause that makes blasphemy a criminal offence for the first time in Ireland. We’ll just have to wait and see if that clause has any practical implications but many people felt that simply writing in what is essentially a religious law in the 21st Century was a dangerous step backwards.
The biggest development of year, court reporting wise was probably the completion of the place where I will be working from now on. The Criminal Courts of Justice are now finished and they’ve been given a test run and we’ll all be moving in once the new term starts in a little more than a week.
To go with the new courts a new piece of legislation, the Courts and Court Officers Act was brought in in November, to make changes to bail for those on trial and also to make provisions for those in custody in the same circumstances. A final bit of t-crossing and i-dotting before the big move.
So that’s a round up of the trials and legislation that shaped my year. 2010 is getting off to a lively start with the trial of Eamonn Lillis, accused of the murder of his wife, former Bond girl Celine Cawley. It’ll be the first big trial in the new courts so it looks like there will be more interesting times ahead.
I’ll be back tomorrow looking forward instead of back. Until then, a very happy new year to all my readers. I hope 2010 brings you everything you’re looking for.