AFTER A LENGTHY trial, the jury heard the judge’s closing remarks today ahead of their deliberations in the case of six people accused of falsely imprisoning Joan Burton and her colleague in Jobstown on 15 November 2014.
Solidarity TD Paul Murphy (34) and five other men have pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to falsely imprisoning Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell by restricting their personal liberty without consent at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght on that date.
Speaking this morning, Judge Melanie Greally told the jury that while it was impossible to ignore the political backdrop to this case, they should be “fearless” in making their decision on whether each man was guilty or not guilty.
“I do not expect you to be deaf or blind to the political background of this trial,” she said. “You may feel a natural sympathy for the people involved. You may like or dislike the witnesses.”
Despite this, however, she urged the jury to be dispassionate in their judgements and to “make [their] decision solely on the facts”.
She split her closing marks into three sections – the legal principles of a criminal trial, how the law applies in this particular case and a summary of the evidence.
Judge Greally warned the jury that, “at this critical stage”, it was essential that the members of the jury do not conduct any background research on the case.
“You must give a true verdict in accordance with the evidence,” she said.
The judge told the jury not to make their judgements in a “one-size-fits-all” manner but rather to analyse the role that each man played, evaluate their own individual intent and actions on the day.
The judge outlined the specific laws relevant to this case. While the right to protest was exercised by the accused, Joan Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell had the right to liberty too under the constitution.
On false imprisonment, she said: “It is quite wrong to say false imprisonment requires some level of violence.”
Although none of the men are accused of violence towards the former Tánaiste and her adviser, this does not mean that they did not falsely imprison her, the judge said.
On the question of the route that the car they were travelling in took, if the jury determines that a reasonable means of escape was available to the pair which was not taken, then they cannot return a guilty verdict, Judge Greally said.
She then turned to the possible sentencing in the case.
“While it is not established practice to inform the jury of the maximum punishment, the cat is out of the bag in this case,” she said.
While the maximum sentence available would be life in prison, the judge said, she urged the jury “to banish all considerations of the consequences of your decision” in their deliberations. “It is for me and me alone – that consideration only arises if you’re satisfied beyond reasonable doubt,” she said.
The presence of other people in the videos that the jury have seen are irrelevant, the judge told them, and the jury’s decision must be based solely on the actions of these six men.
Summary of facts
First, Judge Greally summarised the prosecution’s case. She said their argument was:
- The protest was not a peaceful one.
- There was a perceived risk to the safety of Joan Burton and Karen O’Connell.
- Burton was advised to leave Jobstown, and attempted to do so.
- Burton and O’Connell were prevented from doing so.
- The accused prevented them from leaving intentionally, constituting the false imprisonment of the pair.
The case for the defence, meanwhile, was also briefly summarised by the judge:
- They were exercising their right to protest in a peaceful manner against water charges.
- Their actions caused a delay, an inconvenience which is a legitimate part of protest.
- They assert that the case is politically motivated, unrelated to their actions of the day, but an effort for the political establishment to assert themselves.
- Defence for Michael Banks said that while a false imprisonment may have occurred, it could not be attributed solely to the accused.
Judge Greally said that it was essential that the jury asked a series of questions on their way to reaching a verdict.
The first is: “Was this a peaceful protest?”
The jury’s answer to this question was essential to how it viewed the other facts of the case, she said.
“The answer to this will determine the lens with which you judge the accused, and the actions of gardaí,” she said. “But do not confuse anger and hostility with violence.”
She asked the jury to consider all the evidence and evaluate if the claim that it was a peaceful protest stacked up.
If they judge that it was a peaceful protest, then the actions of gardaí come under scrutiny, Judge Greally said.
They must then move on to if Burton and O’Connell were restrained from leaving Jobstown on the day. If they conclude that they were, the actions and words of each of the accused must then be examined in detail, the judge said.
She also told the jury to consider the inconsistencies in the statements given by gardaí and their evidence to court, and also whether “it was a political campaign against Paul Murphy”.
“How far does that argument go?” the judge asked, considering the other men on trial. She added:
This case is not about the right to protest. Your verdict is not about sending messages. It’s about establishing whether the limits [on protesting] were exceeded on this occasion.
After outlining the evidence, the judge gave her instructions to the jury to retire and consider the evidence.
Paul Murphy of Kingswood Heights, Tallaght; Kieran Mahon of Bolbrook Grove, Tallaght; Michael Murphy of Whitechurch Way, Ballyboden, Dublin; Frank Donaghy of Alpine Rise, Tallaght; Michael Banks (46) of Brookview Green, Tallaght and Scott Masterson of Carrigmore Drive, Tallaght have all denied the charges.
The judge concluded her closing remarks at 3.10pm today, and the jury have now begun deliberations.
Judge Greally will hear arguments from defence counsel as to her closing remarks from 10.30am tomorrow morning. The jury have been sent home for the evening and are due to resume deliberations at 2pm tomorrow.
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