Judge's police minders ‘not in court' during confrontation

It is understood that Lord Justice Gillen's personal protection team were not in court when he was confronted

EXCLUSIVE: Court officials who intervened to protect a judge from an illegal arrest may bizarrely be deemed to have broken the law.

It is understood a technicality may mean the officials had no powers to impede a police officer in the course of their duties.

It comes as there are concerns over the safety of Northern Ireland judges in their own court rooms after it emerged a senior law lord was without his personal police protection team when he was confronted in court.

Lord Justice John Gillen was hearing a routine house repossession case last week when an off-duty police officer allegedly approached and threatened to arrest him.

It is not known whether Thomas Anthony Carlin had his personal protection weapon in court at the time.

Mr Carlin's outburst came at the end of a ruling at the High Court in Belfast during which he was representing himself against Santander bank over a property in Ballymena, Co Antrim.

The Irish News has learned that the judge's Close Protection Unit (CPU) were not present in court at the time and instead tipstaff (court officials) had to intervene.

A police spokeswoman said: "As this has been referred to the Police Ombudsman's office it would be inappropriate to comment any further."

Tipstaffs are personal assistants to judges and have no enforcement role.

The Police Ombudsman is investigating because, although the officer was off-duty when it happened, "he placed himself on-duty by threatening to arrest the judge".

"This has enabled us to take a look at his actions," a spokesman said.

Court security staff are understood to have been the next to step in, with the judge's personal security team the last to the scene.

The court room panic alarm was not sounded during the incident, instead the Royal Courts of Justice control room called 999.

The 43-year-old was initially arrested on suspicion of two counts of common assault, but later released without charge.

Court Service refused to comment on why the court alarm was not activated.

"Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service does not comment on matters relating to security issues," a spokeswoman said.

CPU cover for judges costs more than £7 million annually, which "includes court security and related travel time and also official judicial business/functions and is for manpower only".

The threat against the judiciary is assessed by the Northern Ireland Committee on Protection.

Mr Carlin, who is understood to have been on sick leave for several months, was brought back to court several hours later amid a heavy police presence, flanked by two officers.

Lord Justice Gillen described what happened as "contempt in the face of the court", saying Mr Carlin had allegedly "approached the presiding judge in a threatening manner" and abused his position as a police officer "in threatening to arrest one of Her Majesty's judges without lawful excuse and physically interfering with a court tipstaff".

The case has been referred to Attorney General John Larkin QC.

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