Judges at the Special Criminal Court have today ruled that the trial of four men accused of falsely imprisoning and assaulting Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) director Kevin Lunney will go ahead next month as scheduled.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding at the three-judge court, this morning rejected a pre-trial application by defence counsel for the four accused men to adjourn the 12-week trial, which is due to commence on January 11.
Luke O’Reilly (66), with an address at Mullahoran Lower, Kilcogy, Co Cavan; Darren Redmond (25), from Caledon Road, East Wall, Dublin 3; Alan O’Brien (39), of Shelmalier Road, East Wall, Dublin 3 and the fourth accused man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are all charged with false imprisonment and assault causing serious harm to Mr Lunney at Drumbrade, Ballinagh, Co Cavan on September 17, 2019.
Mr Lunney (50), a father of six, was abducted close to his home in Co Fermanagh on the evening of September 17. The businessman's leg was broken, he was doused in bleach and the letters QIH were carved into his chest during the two-and-a-half hour ordeal before he was dumped on a roadside in Co Cavan.
The four defendants were sent forward for trial before the Special Criminal Court last March and the non-jury court has fixed January 11, 2021 as their trial date. It is expected to last 12 weeks.
Delivering the non-jury court's ruling on the matter, Mr Justice Hunt, sitting with Judge Sarah Berkeley and Judge Michael Walsh, said that four separate grounds were advanced by the defence.
One of the four grounds for the adjournment application submitted by defence counsel Michael O'Higgins SC, for the unnamed man and adopted by the three other co-accused, was that the law on the retention and accessing of mobile phone data is in "a state of significant uncertainty" in Ireland. Another reason put forward by the barrister was that High Court challenges are being brought by the defendants against the Special Criminal Court's jurisdiction to try the matter.
Mr O'Higgins said there was a large volume of disclosure in the case and in his submission there was no reasonable prospect that the material would be scrutinised in the available time. The lawyer said his client also wanted to go through the material himself, which was not an unreasonable request.
Furthermore, Mr O'Higgins submitted that there was also important DNA evidence found on an abandoned Renault Kangoo van, used in the alleged abduction of Mr Lunney, which went on fire from an electrical fault whilst in the possession of gardai. He noted that the garda ombudsman was carrying out an investigation into the fire and it did not seem unreasonable to wait for the outcome.
The three-judge court disagreed. Refusing the application, Mr Justice Hunt said that as far as these four grounds were concerned, there was no basis for adjourning the trial.
The case was listed for mention on December 21 at 12.30pm.
Last year, the Supreme Court heard an appeal against a High Court ruling in favour of Graham Dwyer which formed part of his bid to overturn his conviction for the murder of childcare worker Elaine O'Hara. The State had appealed the decision by High Court judge Mr Justice Tony O'Connor that part of Ireland's retention laws concerning information generated by telephones contravened EU law. Dwyer claimed that data generated from a phone under the 2011 Communications (Retention of Data) Act should not have been used at his 2015 trial before the Central Criminal Court.
Dwyer’s mobile phone data battle was referred from the Supreme Court to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) earlier this year as the superior court found that EU law at the time was not clear enough for a judgment to be made.
The ECJ has ruled in two similar cases recently that member states and service providers do not have broad rights to retain data on citizens and Irish officials now believe the ECJ is likely to rule against the State on that issue.
In light of its recent rulings, the ECJ asked the Supreme Court if it wished to proceed with its referral of the Dwyer case. The Supreme Court responded that it wished the case to proceed as there were additional issues raised by the referral. The ECJ hearing is expected to begin in mid-January and once it rules, which may take some time, the matter will be referred back to the Irish Supreme Court for further argument and judgment.