The Jobstown Eighteen are charged with offences carrying maximum penalties of 10 years and life imprisonment: sixteen with “false imprisonment”, nine with “violent disorder” and some with both, arising out of a demonstration against the policies of the then Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, when she was attending a function in the area. The demonstration blocked her car allegedly for two hours. They were on their ninth appearance in court this week and had until very recently been the Jobstown Nineteen but co-accused Philip Preston died tragically at the age of only 36).
(Photo from Jobstown Not Guilty FB page)
The Jobstown Eighteen, with the exception of a few, including Paul Murphy TD who had been excused appearance for a number of reasons, appeared before Judge Melanie Greally in the CCJ building on Wednesday 21st July, their ninth court appearance since the Jobstown protest on 15th November 2014. Jobstown is a recent kind of suburb of Tallaght, itself a fairly recent population centre to the southwest of Dublin City. A few juveniles charged in connection with the protest are being dealt with separately in the Children’s Court and one was recently sentenced to six months imprisonment.
Most of the morning was spent by arguments of the battery of defence lawyers against the State’s prosecutor, Mr. McGillicuddy, on the issue of separate trials. The State contends that those on separate charges have to be tried separately but that such a simple division alone would mean eleven on trial at once and that would be too many, according to the State, for the jurors to be able to follow the evidence and decide on the guilt or otherwise of each defendant. The numbers had to be broken down into three or four groups, the State contended.
The defence lawyers argued that some Prosecution witnesses would, in such a process, be called to testify in a number of separate trials and would become too used to their evidence as the element of surprise was removed. Mr Peadar Ó Maolain BL stated that “Prosecution witnesses will be very polished at this stage.”
Another defence argument was that those in last group would not face trial until possibly four years after the original incident. The whole morning was spent with these types of arguments and some lawyers also opposed the putting of their client into a particular group.
PICKING OUT “LEADERS”
The State also made it clear that it sought to try four of the defendants — Paul Murphy, Tommy Kelly, Mick Murphy, Declan Kane — in one separate group, alleging that they had been “in organising mode”, a clear attempt to put some in a leadership category with, presumably, heavier punishment for them should they be convicted.
“NO RECORDING ON SMART PHONES”
Before the submissions began, Judge Greally told the packed courtroom that at the last hearing in May “persons were observed recording these proceedings” on mobile “smart phones”. She said that anybody seen doing this from now on would, at the least, be removed from the courtroom and would be in danger of being found in contempt of court. She did not explain why she objected to recording proceedings nor whether it was only video or including only audio recording to which she was objecting.
At midday Judge Greally said that she would allocate people to the groups and ordered those charged to return to court on October 3rd when presumably they will be committed for the different trials and a jury sworn in. Bail was continued under existing conditions.
DANGEROUS PRECEDENT – SOLIDARITY MOBILISATION NEEDED
These charges are in themselves repressive, seeking to free representatives of the Government and others from serious inconvenience in cases where the population feels that they have been acting unjustly and mobilises to show their dissatisfaction. Joan Burton was one of the most disliked Ministers of an unpopular government, partly for her abrasive manner but much more so for her policy of cuts to funding for social provision. She was also disliked for a controversial exchange in the Dáil when she seemed to be suggesting both that violent behaviour of police on demonstrations and anti-water charge pickets should not be videoed and that ordinary people having Ipads or phone cameras capable of filming those videos was a luxury that would not or should not be within the purchasing range of those protesting.
In addition, the maximum punishments possible on conviction of those charges are ten years and life imprisonment.
If the State succeeds in gaining convictions in these trials, even if the sentencing were fairly lenient within what is possible, it will be a serious setback for the right to protest effectively, to cause disruption to the schedules of Government Ministers and to confront them with strong demonstrations of the people’s anger at the measures being inflicted on the people by the policies of said Ministers.
It is therefore important for people to demonstrate their support for those charged in a number of ways but in particular by attending the trials and other public demonstrations of support.
LEGAL DEFINITIONS AND PUNISHMENT
The charge of “false imprisonment” is akin to kidnapping and has in the past been applied to cases where a person does not permit another to leave a building or an area, usually also preventing them communicating with others. Minister Burton’s car was surrounded by Gardaí as well as demonstrators, she had mobile phones to hand, had changed vehicles during the incident and never attempted to leave the vehicle at the end.
“False Imprisonment”, under the provisions of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997, can result upon conviction ‘on indictment’, i.e. which is what the court is doing here, to imprisonment for life.
The charge of “violent disorder” is similar to “riot” and came into Irish law as part of the Public Order Act of 1994; its provisions and explanation are identical to the British Public Order Act 1886 and it carries a maximum jail sentence of ten years.
(a) three or more persons who are present together at any place (whether that place is a public place or a private place or both) use or threaten to use unlawful violence, and
(b) the conduct of those persons, taken together, is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at that place to fear for his or another person’s safety,
then, each of the persons using or threatening to use unlawful violence shall be guilty of the offence of violent disorder.
(2) For the purposes of this section—
(a) it shall be immaterial whether or not the three or more persons use or threaten to use unlawful violence simultaneously;
(b) no person of reasonable firmness need actually be, or be likely to be, present at that place.
(3) A person shall not be convicted of the offence of violent disorder unless the person intends to use or threaten to use violence or is aware that his conduct may be violent or threaten violence.
(4) A person guilty of an offence of violent disorder shall be liable on conviction on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to both.”