Judge wants careless driving causing death case to be 'dealt with at higher level'

The judge said it was 'not befitting the enormity of the loss for it to be disposed of, as it were, in the district court'
Judge wants careless driving causing death case to be 'dealt with at higher level'

Judge James McNulty has asked whether he can decline jurisdiction in a case of careless driving causing death even though a guilty plea was lodged and the facts heard before him. Picture: iStock

A judge in Co. Cork has asked whether he can decline jurisdiction in a case of careless driving causing death even though a guilty plea was lodged and the facts heard before him.

Judge James McNulty has asked the state solicitor, Malachy Boohig, to refer the matter back to the Director of Public Prosecutions as he said, in his view, it was "not befitting the enormity of the loss for it to be disposed of, as it were, in the district court".

Judge McNulty was speaking in Skibbereen District Court of the case of Catriona Hurley, who two weeks ago pleaded guilty to careless driving causing the death of Theresa O'Brien on Sunday, April 7 last year.

During Judge McNulty's absence from court in the summer months his colleague, Judge John King, had accepted jurisdiction of the case, with the DPP advising same on a guilty plea.

When the case was heard earlier this month two hugely emotional victim impact statements were provided to the court from Ms O'Brien's daughters. Judge McNulty asked prosecuting gardaí whether, at the time Judge King had accepted jurisdiction, he had seen those statements. 

Sgt Paul Kelly said Judge King had not, and Judge McNulty said his colleague "was not fully sighted" when the decision was made.

He said the maximum penalties open to the district court in the case were a maximum fine of €5,000 and/or 12 months in prison.

The judge said he had to express "some respectful reservations" of a matter of such gravity being dealt with at district court level.

"A woman lost her life," he said, referring to the "strange set of circumstances" in which Ms O'Brien had died.

Judge McNulty said he was not criticising the DPP but added: "I think it ought to be dealt with at a higher level".

He said his inclination was to decline jurisdiction but he said it may be that having embarked on the case at all, with the facts heard, that he was precluded from now doing so.

He said there may be existing law regarding similar cases but added: "Each case turns on its own specific circumstances."

He asked Mr Boohig to raise the issue with the DPP. Mr Boohig said the judge's comments were "pertinent and relevant" and he would raise them with the DPP.

Catriona Hurley, a 68-year-old from Coolnagrane near Skibbereen, had been returning home from Mass in the village of Leap when, in trying to overtake Theresa O'Brien, 48, as they both travelled in the same direction, her Volvo struck her.

Ms O'Brien was pronounced dead at the scene. Ms Hurley pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death, had no drugs or alcohol in her system, had no previous convictions and was unable to explain the circumstances of how the incident had occurred beyond failing to properly overtake Ms O'Brien, who was from Clonakilty.

Judge McNulty said he was mindful that Ms Hurley had never previously been prosecuted for any crime.

Mr Boohig said he would raise the issue with the DPP "as quickly as possible" and the matter was put back for two weeks with Ms Hurley remanded on continuing bail until October 13, when the issue of jurisdiction will be considered afresh.

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