FORMER Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay, party member Thomas O'Hara and loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson are contesting a charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.
The men initiated a Preliminary Investigation at Downpatrick Magistrates Court today seeking to have the charges dismissed.
They are charged that on dates between September 1-24 2015, they “conspired together to commit an offence of misconduct in a public office in respect of a public office holder, namely Daithi McKay, who without reasonable excuse or justification wilfully misconducted himself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust, by the manipulation of the presentation of evidence before the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Finance and Personnel”.
The charge relates to a 2015 appearance by Mr Bryson (31) before a Stormont committee, chaired by Mr McKay (38), which was investigating the sale of the National Asset Management Agency’s (Nama) Northern Ireland assets to a US investment fund for £1.2bn.
A decision was taken to prosecute Mr Bryson, of Rosepark in Donaghadee, Co Down; Mr McKay, of Loughan Road in Dunnamanagh, Co Tyrone; and Mr O’Hara (36), from Lisnahunshin Road in Cullybackey, Co Antrim.
Before a judge can elevate a criminal case to the Crown Court for trial, they must be satisfied there is sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case.
Often defendants concede there is a case to answer and it proceeds by way of a Preliminary Enquiry but when there is no concession, the prosecution must call evidence and witnesses in order to convince the judge there is sufficient evidence to warrant putting the defendants on trial.
The hearing before District Judge Mark McGarrity at Downpatrick courthouse is scheduled to last four days.