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Courting trouble

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EXPRESSED HEALTH AND SAFETY CONCERNS Dermot Morahan, President, Mayo Solicitors’ Bar Association.

Current Mayo court arrangements ‘fly in the face’ of Covid guidance

Edwin McGreal

The relocation of some Central Criminal Court cases from Dublin to Mayo and consequent move of Mayo Circuit Criminal Court trials to Galway ‘flies in the face’ of NHPET and Government advice.
That’s according to Dermot Morahan, President of the Mayo Solicitors’ Bar Association, who said the current re-organised court arrangements ‘breach all common sense’.
Some Central Criminal Court trials are currently taking place in the large courtroom in Castlebar, as well as Kilkenny, Cork and Dublin, until early next year, as part of the Courts Service’s response to Covid.
As a consequence, Mayo Circuit Criminal Court trials will be heard in Galway Courthouse in Galway City, commencing on Tuesday, October 20 while all other Circuit Court matters (criminal sentencing, civil, family law) and all District Court matters will have to be heard in smaller courtrooms in Castlebar or elsewhere in the county.
“The whole fact of bringing people from one end of the country to another and then having a knock-on effect of putting people from Mayo to Galway, it just breaches all common sense,” Mr Morahan told The Mayo News. “It just flies in the face on the advice of NPHET. You’ve a trail of people milling around the courthouse from God knows where. It’s contrary to everything we’ve been told from the beginning, stay where you are, try not to mix,” he said.
Similar concerns have also been expressed by well-known Mayo-based barrister Diarmuid Connolly.
“You are bringing down people from a high Covid area (Dublin) to a relatively low Covid area (Mayo) and you are sending those people then to Galway,” Mr Connolly told The Mayo News. “The legal profession, like any other sector of society, has to amend its way of doing business to get the country through this crisis so there has to be change for everyone but I don’t think the health risks have been properly assessed,” he added.
A spokesperson for the Courts Service said the Central Criminal Court cases in Mayo would, typically, be cases from the western region so there would not be a plethora of witnesses coming from Dublin. They also argued the amount of Circuit trials going to Galway may be no more than ‘one to two per term’.
“The idea was to enable Central Criminal Court cases to be heard as locally as possible,” they stated.  

Still considerable movements
However, Dermot Morahan argued that there would still be considerable movement of people across county lines.
“The reality is that staff of the Central Criminal Court are Dublin-based and are coming down here. Where are accused persons, witnesses, gardaí etc coming from?
“I understand the last Central Criminal Court case was a Galway case, they would be crossing county lines. The flip side is you have practitioners, accused people, witnesses, gardaí etc from County Mayo being sent down to Galway,” he said.
He also raised concerns about the volume of people in the courthouse foyer with only limited numbers allowed in a courtroom at any particular time, combined with some members of the public not wearing masks in the courthouse.
Both men were critical of the lack of consultation with the legal profession on the ground in Mayo. The first many were made aware was when Judge Rory McCabe informed them on the last day of the last Mayo Circuit Criminal Court sittings in July.  
“We’re not being precious but one would have thought that there was a level of knowledge and understanding locally that could have been canvassed with a view to coming up with alternatives,” said Mr Connolly.
Mr Morahan argued that alternative venues in Dublin could have been sought for the Central Criminal Court while Mr Connolly also argued Circuit trials in Mayo could be held in hotels or community facilities in the county, rather than in Galway.
In a letter dated September 29 to Angela Denning, the CEO of the Courts Service, Mr Morahan expressed several health and safety concerns.
He also expressed concerns of the legal fraternity that current arrangements might be ‘the thin end of the wedge’.
He asked Ms Denning to ‘conclusively confirm’ that Castlebar Courthouse will not be used for Central Criminal Court trials for the Hilary Law Term of 2021 (January to April) and afterwards.
In a letter to Ms Denning on July 31 last, after discovering the re-organised sittings, Mr Morahan said members of the Mayo Bar ‘are furious’, raised concerns about the ‘inadequacy’ of Galway Courthouse and expressed concerns about how the moves would impact on Covid guidelines.