The snows are finally melting and the Christmas decorations are down. The new court term got underway today under leaden grey skies, in an ocean of slush. From today on there will be no more Four Courts for criminal trials. All the criminal courts are now officially moved to the grandly named Criminal Courts of Justice on Parkgate Street in Dublin, right next to the Phoenix Park.
For the press the new court term got off to a good start with a trial listed that will get editors pulses racing for the next couple of weeks. The trial won’t start until tomorrow but this morning the jury was sworn for Eamonn Lillis.
Mr Lillis is accused of the murder of his wife Celine Cawley, Bond girl, model and the woman behind Toytown Films, one of Irelands largest advertising production houses. As the jury panel were warned of the Cawley family’s connections in advertising and as solicitors, the pens scratched away furiously, getting every detail of the brief proceedings.
Mr Lillis stood stiffly while the single charge was read out to him. Dressed in a black coat, with a white shirt and sombre black tie, he tilted his chin up as he listened to the arraignment before answering quietly but firmly “Not guilty”.
The jury selection process was a departure from what we were all used to in the Four Courts. Instead of the jury panel taking every available seat in the court room they were hidden from sight, in a special holding area. Judge Paul Carney spoke to them via a TV link, explaining how the selection process would proceed and highlighting some of the basic facts of the case so that the jurors could excuse themselves if they knew anyone involved.
The names of twenty or so of the panel were read out and after a short pause they appeared clustered at the back of the jury box. They were then called one by one to take their oath, giving the prosecution and defence an opportunity to object to anyone they chose. Seven can be refused by either side, with no reason given. After that reasons must be given but the number of refusals is unlimited…we seldom get to the reasons though.
The registrar read through the list of names and the selection started. Every now and then either side would raise an objection to a juror who would then melt back into the background, dismissed. As the judge says, there is no way of knowing why a juror is refused. It could be because they were wearing a tie, or because they weren’t. Today, by accident or design, it seemed that the prosecution had a downer on young men of a more casual persuasion. Anyone with long hair or a band t-shirt was swiftly dispatched and obvious students refused.
The defence on the other hand refused women. A succession of middle aged women in comfortable clothes were sent packing while women in suits or obvious students took their seats. Eventually six men and six women were left. It’ll be up to them to decide guilt or innocence at the end of this trial.
Tomorrow the trial proper will start and we’ll discover which man or woman has been selected or volunteered as foreman. Today it’s all down to the inconsequential minutiae, like the tuning up of an orchestra. The new year has really begun.