Northern Ireland news

Waterfront Hall could be used as temporary venue for trials

Waterfront Hall

THE Waterfront Hall in Belfast could be used as a temporary venue for criminal trials, a senior judge said today.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, no new trials involving multiple defendants have been held at court buildings across Northern Ireland as a result of social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

There is believed to be a substantial number of cases awaiting a trial date and venue which have been delayed because of the pandemic.

Belfast Crown Court heard today that a trial date had been set for January 2021 of nine defendants in the case of 'Francis Devlin & Others' who are facing charges of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and conspiracy to conceal criminal property.

Mr Justice O'Hara said that because of the current pandemic, trials involving "multiple defendants'' are not taking place at the moment.

He told prosecution and defence counsel, some of whom appeared via remote link for the hearing, that the Lord Chief Justice "is currently in consultation'' about sourcing other facilities to hold trials involving multiple defendants.

The senior said one of these facilities was the Waterfront Hall and Conference Centre which is short distance away from Laganside Court complex and which has remained shut to the public for performances since March because of health regulations.

He added that he would review the case in February 2021.

In September this year, Derry Recorder, His Honour Judge Philip Babington, suggested that empty cruis liners off the south coast of England could be relocated to Northern Ireland to enable jury trials involving more than one defendant to take place.

During a sitting of Derry Crown Court in Coleraine, Judge Babington said that trials could take place in ships moored on Lough Foyle or Belfast Lough.

Several cases, some of them involving listed trials, were put back for several weeks because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on court cases generally and on jury trials in particular.

Judge Babington said at that time that because of the current coronavirus pandemic no court building in Northern Ireland could be used to deal with a jury trial involving more than one defendant.

"There is no way I nor anyone else can list a case to be heard anywhere in Northern Ireland which involves more than one defendant. Like others I am not best pleased with this situation but we are where we are", he said.

Judge Babington asked the barristers that if they had "any influence through the Bar Council to see whether we can get the courts to deal with multiple defendant cases, it would be of great assistance".

"In all seriousness there is a serious problem here which the Court Service will somehow have to attempt to resolve,'' added Judge Babington.

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