No Covid-19 in jails says judge who warns lawyers about “fear of the virus” behind bars

Court Reporter

Reporter:

Court Reporter

coronavirus covid-19

Midlands Prison Portlaoise

The judge in charge of High Court bail has warned lawyers not to burden the courts with multiple applications for bail solely on the basis of a feared outbreak of Covid-19 in at jails in Portlaoise or elsewhere in the Irish prison system that hasn’t happened yet. 

Ms Justice Mary Rose Gearty, who was splitting a list of 38 applications for High Court bail with another judge on Tuesday, said a number of cases were appearing before her where bail had recently been refused and the only change of circumstance cited was “fear of the virus” in prison. 

Ms Justice Gearty said there was currently no recorded case of Covid-19 in the Irish prison system and she wasn’t going to make any rulings in advance of diagnosis. 

In cases where High Court bail had already been refused, she said the reasons for doing so were “evidence-based”, and fear of the virus was not a basis in law for overturning previous rulings. 

In light of the judge’s comments, Emmet Nolan BL, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, mentioned the case of a man that was making a renewed bail application, after being refused High Court bail in February.

Mr Nolan said the only change of circumstance cited in the man’s renewed bail application was fear of the “current pandemic” in prison. As such, he said the matter had already been adjudicated upon and could not be pursued again. 

Ms Justice Gearty said she had every sympathy for the accused man currently on remand in prison but “the law is the law” and there was “no way” she was going to overturn a previous order on the basis of something that wasn’t evidence-based. 

She struck out the case and refused to award legal costs for the renewed application, adding that the man’s lawyers should have been able to predict that fear of the pandemic was not a sufficient change in circumstances that could permit bail to be granted. 

Similarly, Mr Nolan mentioned another case where bail had recently been refused and the only reason cited for a renewed bail application was the “current pandemic”. 

The applicant’s barrister said she was concerned about proportionality and the delay facing her client’s trial arising out of the current crisis. 

But the judge said delays in cases going to trial applied to everybody and she was not going to allow a renewed bail application to be made so shortly after a refusal.

Ms Justice Gearty also commented that Ireland was currently gripped by a public health emergency and people were being asked to stay at home in order to protect everybody. 

In those circumstances, she said a requirement that persons on bail present themselves to garda stations to sign-on, so that their whereabouts are known to gardaí, was “not practical in the current climate”. 

She said a “failure to sign-on alone for the next four weeks will not be a reason for someone’s bail to be revoked” and that she was no longer making it a bail condition for the time being. 

She stressed that other bail conditions such as a requirement that persons on bail live at a specific address, obey curfews and keep mobile phones switched on at all times - so that they can be contacted by gardaí - remain in force. Any breaches in respect of those other requirements will be taken seriously, she said.