Gardaí barred the media from a district court hearing concerning the authenticity of garda statements.
Former Fianna Fáil MEP Kieran Hartley from county Waterford is standing trial in Dungarvan District Court for allegedly verbally abusing a family member of a local garda.
On 13 October Hartley’s counsel was challenging the authenticity of garda statements on the matter when an Garda Síochána denied journalists and members of the public entry to the courtroom. Certain limited circumstances aside, district court proceedings are held in public in Ireland.
Gardaí now claim they were directed to exclude the public from the court by the presiding judge – the judge however rejects this.
The garda press office in a statement to The Ditch said the presiding judge in Hartley’s case, Brian O’Shea, had called for the courtroom to be cleared as a voir dire was being heard. Voir dire is a legal term for proceedings concerning the admissibility of evidence, which are usually heard in private.
“The presiding judge directed that the court be cleared of persons not involved in the case,” said a garda spokesperson, going on to add:
“The court garda cleared the court as requested by the judge. No further access was allowed by members of the public after that point and it is understood that members of the media who also arrived after that point were inadvertently prevented from accessing the courtroom. Once the voir dire was finalised the courtroom was opened up to all.”
A spokesperson for judge O’Shea however rejected this explanation.
“At no stage did judge Brian O'Shea or the Courts Service issue a direction that the court in Dungarvan should be held otherwise than in public. The alleged actions of the gardaí is a matter for the superintendent of the garda station at Dungarvan,” said the spokesperson.
When Hartley’s case originally came before court on 22 September, his defence questioned the authenticity of written garda statements and asked that they be sent for forensic examination.
The matter was adjourned to 13 October, with judge O’Shea instructing prosecuting garda Tom Daly to appear before the court with all original statements.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy called on the gardaí to explain the incident.
“The principle that justice be administered in public except in exceptional circumstances is a vital one. It ensures that at least the public can be aware, mostly through the media, of what is happening in the courts. The breaching of this principle in these circumstances is very concerning. An explanation from the gardaí of what happened here is needed,” said Murphy.
The case will come before Dungarvan District Court again on 30 November.
When asked for comment, Hartley said “I am currently taking legal advice in relation to the incident at Dungarvan District Court and certain other serious issues that have arisen as a result of last week's hearing."
Dungarvan Garda district superintendent Michael Leacy declined to comment.