Northern Ireland news

Several high-profile criminal cases affected by Covid-19 disruption

Michael O'Connor pleaded guilty to Joleen Corr's murder

SEVERAL high-profile criminal cases have been affected by disruption to courts during the Covid-19 crisis.

All court business across the north has now been consolidated in Royal Courts of Justice and Laganside in Belfast and Dungannon, Craigavon and Derry courthouses.

Much of the crown court business designated 'non-urgent' has ground to a virtual halt, with the exception of matters such as bail applications.

Cases affected have included the sentencing of Michael O'Connor for the murder of his ex-partner Joleen Corr (27), who died 17 months after a horrific attack in her Downpatrick home.

The 34-year-old was due be sentenced last week, but as with other Crown cases the tariff hearing was adjourned.

Another high-profile case affected by the court's closure was a trial relating to the death of west Belfast mother-of-three Jennifer Dornan (30) in August 2015.

Some bail applications have been dealt with 'administratively.'

In these cases, both the Crown and defence lodge their submissions via email to a crown court judge, who then gives a ruling and response via email.

All aspects of the bail applications are being done without anyone - including the defendant - having to physically attend court.

Grounds for release for prisoners either on remand or awaiting sentence have included concerns for their health whilst in prison during the Covid-19 crisis.

For those who have been granted bail, conditions they would normally have to adhere to - such as signing at a designated police station - have been amended.

A police spokeswoman said: "Court bail conditions must be obeyed unless an appropriate application for variation is granted.

"A procedure has been implemented so that persons that continue to attend enquiry offices to sign bail do not have to physically sign.

"Social distancing measures are in place to ensure that the safety of all our staff and members of the public entering all stations, and we will continue to work with our partners to address any concerns they may have."

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