An inquiry is being conducted into an allegation that a district judge called a defendant “English scum” at a remand hearing.
The allegation arose from an appearance by English national Paul Harrison before Killarney District Court on October 18, 2016. It was his first appearance on a charge of possession of drugs for sale.
Mr Harrison, who lives in Killarney, wrote to the Chief Justice to complain that when he appeared before Judge James O’Connor, the judge called him “English scum”. He also requested the production of an audio record of the day’s proceedings.
It is understood that Judge O’Connor strongly denies the allegation.
Attempts to contact him through the Court Service were unsuccessful.
The digital audio recording (DAR) was not operating on the day. The recording is made at the discretion of the sitting judge.
Sources familiar with the district court in Kerry say Judge O’Connor instructs the use of the DAR system on an infrequent basis.
The chief justice at the time, Susan Denham, responded to the complaint through her legal executive, who wrote : “The chief justice has no function in dealing with complaints in relation to members of the judiciary and there is no complaints procedure available through the office of the chief justice.”
Her office passed on the complaint to the President of the District Court, Judge Rosemary Horgan. A spokesman for the Court Service confirmed Judge Horgan is inquiring into the matter.
The complaint to the chief justice is dated July 4, 2016. It is understood that the delay in the president’s inquiry is due to attempts to retrieve some record of the proceedings.
When the DAR system was introduced a few years ago, one design feature was that a back-up record of proceedings would be available in the event of the DAR malfunctioning. Irrespective of any outcome from the inquiry, the president of the district court has no powers to impose any sanction on any judge of the court.
After appearing before Judge O’Connor, Mr Harrison was subsequently prosecuted at Tralee Circuit Court, where he received a three-year suspended term.
The Court Service has confirmed Judge O’Connor is ill and is not available for court sittings for the foreseeable future.
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