British judge sits in Irish courtroom in Omagh case

A British judge will rule in an Irish courtroom today as the landmark civil action claim over the Omagh bombing takes another groundbreaking step.

In a third twist in the unprecedented case, Mr Justice Declan Morgan – who has presided over the case at Belfast Crown Court – will sit in Dublin to hear submissions from the defendant’s barristers.

For the first time, the District Court will be transformed into a British court setting for the short hearing.

The action is also the first time a case has been taken against alleged terrorists through the courts and the first time evidence has been heard in a court in the Republic of Ireland for a case in the North.

Mr Justice Morgan must rule on whether senior counsel will be allowed to object to evidence from gardai they deem inadmissible.

Legal argument yesterday delayed the start of the lawsuit when barristers for men alleged to be responsible for the atrocity claimed the names of their clients could be tarnished if they were not permitted to question evidence as it is given.

The action has been taken against Michael McKevitt, the alleged leader of the Real IRA, the man said to be his number two, Liam Campbell, and Colm Murphy, Seamus McKenna and Seamus Daly. All deny any involvement.

Michael O’Higgins, for McKevitt, argued that if a question asked was clearly inadmissible, and an answer given damaging to his client, that answer was likely to be published the length and breadth of the country.

“My client’s good name will be tarnished,” he said.

“It is no good knowing two to three weeks later that he can object back in Belfast.”

Dermot Fee QC, for Daly and Murphy, said the questions had been devised by the plaintiffs and there was a very clear risk of substantial unfairness to the defendants.

District Judge Conal Gibbons said his role was to take the evidence, and previously told the parties that the inadmissibility of evidence would have to be raised in the North.

He later ruled that because of the short time frame between the court in the North requesting the use of the court in the Republic of Ireland and him trying to implement the process there may be difficulties with certain issues between the parties.

He granted Mr Justice Declan Morgan permission to hold his trial court in the Republic of Ireland courtroom tomorrow morning and hear submissions on the issue of inadmissible evidence.

“I believe the questions are the questions of the requesting court,” he said.

“I allow the opportunity to take instructions and go through the questions and have the process of dealing with issues with Mr Justice Morgan here in this court.”

Judge Gibbons also ruled that Brian O’Moore SC could be present at the hearing for each member of the Gardaí on the basis of a watching brief.

“I think the procedure should be in that manner and that if and when issues arise that I may call on you to make submissions on any matter that may arise,” he said.

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