Judge refuses to delay trial despite DPP's lack of senior counsel

Mr Justice Paul McDermott said the issue was "self-imposed", adding it was a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions
Judge refuses to delay trial despite DPP's lack of senior counsel

Eoin Reynolds

A judge has refused to delay the start of a trial where the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said she cannot find a senior counsel to run the case.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott said on Wednesday that the Central Criminal Court will not delay trials on the basis of unavailability of counsel. He said each case in the list has a history and there are rules in relation to the participation of barristers and how they can extricate themselves from a trial.

The judge said: "That is a matter for them and a matter for the director to anticipate what resources are required. I can't do that job. I can only list cases for trial and I expect the authorities of the State to ensure they are ready for trial."

Carol Doherty BL, on behalf of the DPP, said the trial is due to start on Thursday but the senior counsel who was instructed in the case is not available until next week. She said the director had sent a message to all senior counsel on the director's panel, but none were available.

She added that junior counsel would not be suitable to represent the director in a case of such magnitude.

Ms Doherty asked the judge to delay the opening of the case by a few days to allow the original senior counsel to return. However, Mr Justice McDermott said there are junior counsels and solicitors who have a right of audience in court.

In the past, he said, junior counsels have run cases where a senior counsel was not available.

He said the court now has more judges available to it than previously and this change is not a surprise for the DPP. It has, the judge said, been "well-flagged".

Wait times

Mr Justice McDermott said he is trying to cut down on the wait time for children and vulnerable people who come before the courts, or who are complainants in cases, and he is trying to reduce the amount of time people spend in custody before their trials begins.

He said: "It is a matter for other parties to retain professional persons to conduct the cases in the court and to anticipate what needs and resources they will require. I'm not going to organise the list based on the availability or non-availability of counsel. It would be chaos to organise the list on that basis."

The judge said the convenience of barristers was never a basis to adjourn a case and neither is it a basis for delay where a professional team is not ready to take a case that has been in the list "for months, if not years".

"All cases listed for trial, insofar as I have any say in it, will be going on," he said. The only reason for delay will be the unavailability of courtrooms or judges, he added.

The judge explained this approach is the only fair one for those who come to court.

Ms Doherty said the director did take all actions, including pre-trial assessments, but despite her efforts, no counsel was available. She added the director would not be comfortable allowing the case to go ahead without a senior counsel.

Mr Justice McDermott said he could think of a number of people "off the top of my head" who could run the case.

Ms Doherty explained the director selects its lawyers from a panel of those who wish to work for the DPP, but that list has been exhausted.

Mr Justice McDermott responded: "I now understand that the restriction is self-imposed by a panel. That is a matter for the director."

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