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Judge warns of 'ill-informed debate' on bail

Published 09/03/2013

A HIGH Court judge has refused bail to leading Union flag protester Jamie Bryson - after warning that ill-informed comparisons between cases can undermine the rule of law.

With First Minister Peter Robinson having claimed republicans are perceived as receiving better treatment than loyalists, Mr Justice McCloskey stressed the separation of judicial and government powers.

His caution came as it emerged that Mr Bryson had been arrested in a converted attic of an associate pastor's home.

The 23-year-old, of Rosepark in Donaghadee, Co Down, is the chairman of the Ulster People's Forum which set up in the wake of protests over the decision to limit flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.

He is charged with six offences involving encouraging or assisting offences and taking part in an unnotified public procession.

As Mr Bryson appeared by video-link from Maghaberry Prison, a prosecution lawyer told the High Court a decision had been taken to detain him after police had studied video footage of him addressing crowds of demonstrators and allegedly encouraging them to offend.

A search operation at his home proved unsuccessful and he also escaped police after being spotted in Kilcooley, Bangor, last week, it was claimed.

"When they did attempt to apprehend the applicant at the home of an associate the associate attempted to prevent police from gaining entry into the house where they found Mr Bryson in the converted roof-space bedroom," the lawyer said.

The judge was told how the accused had posted comments on social media sites as the PSNI hunted for him.

"He said the police weren't very good at their job because they haven't arrested him," the barrister said.

At one stage in his posting Mr Bryson claimed Chief Constable Matt Baggott needed to use better tracking devices in a bid to locate him.

The barrister added: "He indicated he might hand himself in if he could walk. He said his legs are sore."

She said that if released Bryson would reoffend and encourage others to do so through his speeches.

Setting out the estimated £20 million cost of policing the flag protests over the past three months, the barrister said the demonstrations had resulted in serious public disorder, injuries to police and significant losses suffered by businesses.

Richard McConkey QC, defending, argued that his client could be seen in the footage liasing with police to ensure no trouble broke out at protests.

"At all times Mr Bryson has been encouraging peaceful protests. There is absolutely no suggestion at all that this man has been asking people to behave in an unlawful manner," he said.

Mr McConkey contended there was confusion over police now declaring that unnotified processions to the city hall were illegal.

However, Mr Justice McCloskey refused bail after backing prosecution submissions that the accused might re-offend or incite others to do so.

"The applicant, who has openly evaded and obstructed the police previously, thereby showing no regard at all for the criminal justice system, may by virtue of that conduct repeat his previous behaviour of this kind," he said.

In his ruling the judge stressed that every bail application was different.

He said anyone attempting to compare cases had a responsibility to ensure they were fully informed of all the facts, circumstances and merits.

A proper comparison can take place only in a courtroom, he said.

Mr Justice McCloskey warned: "Where there is ill-informed debate involving comparisons between individ ual cases this simply engenders confusion and misunderstanding.

"It can also have very serious consequences. It can serve to jeopardise the delicate balance of the separation of powers between the judiciary and government and in doing so it can under-mine the rule of law itself."