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'Storm in a teacup': Judge dismisses French authorities' request for Ian Bailey's submissions in extradition case

Counsel for Bailey said it was an “unprecedented” and “unorthodox” request from French authorities.

File photo. Ian Bailey leaving the High Court in February.
File photo. Ian Bailey leaving the High Court in February.
Image: Rollingnews.ie

A HIGH COURT judge has said the issue of a request from French authorities to view the legal submissions on Ian Bailey’s objections to his proposed extradition is “a storm in a teacup”.

Mr Justice Paul Burns said today that he would disregard two pieces of correspondence from France seeking access to Bailey’s submissions as they had not come from the Issuing Judicial Authority.

Last week, Ronan Munro SC with Marc Thompson BL, for Bailey, told the High Court that French authorities had made an “unprecedented” and “unorthodox” request to view the legal submissions on Bailey’s objections to his extradition there.

The Englishman is facing a 25-year prison sentence for the murder of filmmaker Sophie Toscan du Plantier and a three-day hearing where he will contest the request for his surrender has been scheduled to commence before the High Court on 15 July.

The 63-year-old denies any involvement in the mother-of-one’s death.

During today’s brief hearing, Counsel for the Minister, Robert Barron SC with Leo Mulrooney BL, said the State had brought the French correspondence to the court’s attention so it was aware of what was happening.

Barron said it was correspondence between two different States and the Minister for Justice was entitled to do with it how it saw fit.

In reply, Munro, for Bailey, said it was a non-justiciable issue as it had come from the head of the office for international mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and not the Issuing Judicial Authority.

Mr Justice Burns called the issue of the request by French authorities “a storm in a teacup” as it had not come from the Issuing Judicial Authority in France. There was “no sinister element” to the correspondence, he said, and it was of no consequence to the proceedings.

The judge said the correspondence was not addressed to the High Court and had been brought to his attention as a matter of caution. He said he would treat it that way until he was told to treat it differently.

He pointed out that the Issuing Judicial Authority had not corresponded with the court, adding: “Obviously these matters should have been properly done with the Issuing Judicial Authority and it has not been done in this instance”.

Mr Bailey was not present in court for today’s hearing. He was previously remanded on continuing bail until 15 July.

Last week, Munro explained that a request was received from French authorities to view the submissions from both the State and Bailey ahead of the extradition hearing in July. He noted that the issuing of such documents seemed to be outside the statutory procedure.

Munro further stated that he was not aware of any “free-wheeling” statutory right which the issuing State had to ask for this. “I can say to the court with confidence that it is an unorthodox application but the court is well able to deal with it,” he said.

Counsel for the Minister for Justice, Leo Mulrooney BL, said an email and a letter, dated 18 March and 14 April, had been received from the French authorities, which were handed into the court.

Mr Justice Burns said they seemed to be letters from the French authorities requesting submissions from both parties, which was nothing to do with the court. However, Mulrooney said that the Minister for Justice would not release the submissions without a ruling from the court.

Munro said he had reservations about the request and he wanted the proper statutory provisions followed. “In my experience it is unprecedented. I can’t think of a case where an executing State has sought this,” he added.

In reply, Mr Justice Burns said that although “this certainly had not happened before” it did not mean that it was not allowed.

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This is the third time French authorities are seeking Mr Bailey’s surrender in relation to the death of du Plantier, whose badly beaten body was found outside her holiday home in Schull in December 1996.

Bailey with an address at The Prairie, Liscaha, Schull, west Cork, was convicted of the French woman’s murder in his absence in a Paris court in May 2019. The three-judge Cour d’Assises in Paris accordingly imposed a 25-year prison sentence on the Englishman in his absence.

He was arrested at the Criminal Courts of Justice Building in December last year and remanded on bail after a High Court judge endorsed the third European Arrest Warrant seeking his extradition to France.

Bailey denies any involvement in the mother-of-one’s death. He did not attend the French court and had no legal representation in the proceedings, which he has described as a “farce”.

His senior counsel, Munro, previously told the High Court that Mr Bailey will be opposing surrender on grounds related to “fundamental rights” and that the authorities’ previous two extradition attempts were “relevant” to their points of objection to the present attempt.

The court has also heard that Bailey swore an affidavit setting out certain factual matters, particularly in relation to his health.

The Supreme Court refused to extradite Bailey in 2012 holding that surrender was prohibited because the alleged offence was committed outside French territory and Irish law does not allow prosecution for the same offence when committed outside its territory by a non-Irish citizen.

A second French extradition request in respect of Bailey was dismissed as an “abuse of process” by the High Court in 2017. On that occasion, Mr Justice Tony Hunt held that the “unique features” of the case justified “termination” of the proceedings.

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Alison O'Riordan

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