The courts are back today after their Easter break today. Court 1 was packed this morning with a jury panel big enough to fill the seven cases listed to start this week. First weeks back always have full lists – it’s a clean slate with no hang overs from previous weeks so there’s a chance of most of the cases getting started.
I was down to cover Ronald McManus, also known as Ronald or Ronnie Dunbar. He’s accused of the murder of teenager Melissa Mahon, whose body was recovered from Lough Gill in County Sligo after she had been missing for over 18 months.
As I said, it was a packed courtroom today. Out of the seven cases listed to start, three of them will go ahead so three juries had to be selected. The potential jurors find seats for themselves anywhere. The prison officers frequently have to shift unsuspecting members of the general public so that the relevant accused actually has somewhere to sit while the jury that will hear his or case is selected. It can be a long process.
When you’ve sat through numerous Mondays you get used to the way things work. You know the exact phrases that will be used by the judge, the common excuses that will be trotted out by those anxious to avoid doing their civic duty. Those of us who work in the courts aren’t allowed to sit on juries. Probably wise I suppose. You do tend to get rather jaundiced when you’ve been there long enough for one trial to start blending into another.
First of all the Registrar will call out twenty or so names from the panel and wait until they manage to fight their way up to the jury box. Then one by one they are called to take the Bible in their right hand and swear to try the case according to the evidence. The Prosecution and the Defence both have seven chances to veto a juror without having to give a reason then any number of vetos as long as they have a reason for each one. Jurors can also ask to be excused and it’s up to the judge’s discretion, usually Mr Justice Paul Carney, whether that’s granted.
Normally if they have holidays booked or important meetings or hospital appointments coming up they will be let go. The self-employed are off the hook as well as is anyone who has a pivotal role in a small company but it is after all, an employers responsibility to give the workers the paid time off. This morning, the first jury was selected without a hitch.
The trial of a man accused of the murder of another man in Mountjoy Prison, it’s only expected to take a day or two so there weren’t any issues with time conflicts. Twelve names were called out of the twenty and each one of them was sworn in. Once all were sworn they were sent off to a different courtroom for the trial to get underway.
The next jury was for the McManus trial. Dressed in a black t-shirt with navy blue tracksuit bottoms he came into court clutching a red and blue striped plastic bag. He’s charged with murdering Melissa Mahon somewhere in Sligo County some time in late September 2006. He’s also charged with making threats to kill another woman. He answered not guilty to both charges.
The Registrar called out the first round of names. Justice Carney warned them they could be stuck in the court for a month. The excuses started coming thick and fast.
A lot of people were going on holiday in May. I’m jealous, but then I get paid to sit in court – they don’t (exactly). Several claimed reduced recessionary workforces as their reason for crying off. They were let go. Then came the stockbroker. He stood up when his name was called, all pin-striped suit and metal-rimmed glasses. His accent was what my gran used to call “too, too terribly bay window” (posh and I have no idea where the phrase comes from). He informed the judge the markets were simply too volatile at the moment. There was no way he could stay away from his duties for the amount of time required.
Judge Paul Carney was not impressed. He’d heard that excuse before from other stock brokers and hadn’t given into them either he informed the unfortunate broker who could obviously see long weeks of jury duty materialising before his eyes. He gave it one more go though. His individual clients would suffer, he told the judge. If he wasn’t there to manage their money it would go unmanaged. Nothing doing from the judge though. The courts only sat for four hours a day he was told. There were plenty more hours to deal with his clients.
Pin-stripe suit man didn’t win. Even after he’d sworn himself in he looked as if he was itching to jump up and argue his corner some more. Every time another self employed person was excused after him his eyebrows twitched and his lips got thinner as he fought a reaction. He was looking rather pink in the face as the jury took shape and time and again people escaped for work related reasons.
He’ll have tonight to get over it though. The trial will start tomorrow before Mr Justice Barry White and we’ll all have plenty of time to get familiar with one another over the next few weeks.