Michael Clifford: Bailey hearing shows stakes are high

Yesterday in the High Court, there was a small vignette in relation to the long saga of Ian Bailey and the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
Michael Clifford: Bailey hearing shows stakes are high
Frank Buttimer (L), solicitor for Ian Bailey, speaking to film director Jim Sheridan (R), outside court today after the brief hearing. Picture: Collins Courts
Frank Buttimer (L), solicitor for Ian Bailey, speaking to film director Jim Sheridan (R), outside court today after the brief hearing. Picture: Collins Courts

Yesterday in the High Court, there was a small vignette in relation to the long saga of Ian Bailey and the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

The hearing was a preliminary matter ahead of a full extradition hearing on July 14, Bastille Day.

The French want Mr Bailey handed over following his conviction in a Paris court last May for the murder of Ms Du Plantier in west Cork in December 1996.

In contrast to the Paris trial, prosecuting authorities in this country have repeatedly found that Mr Bailey does not have a case to answer.

The current attempt to have him extradited is the third time the French have come calling.

This time it’s different as he is now a convicted murderer in the eyes of French law.

The brief hearing yesterday concerned a letter from an official in the French justice department to a counterpart in the Irish Department of Justice setting out that the case in question was very sensitive in France and the outcome regarded as of very high importance.

The letter went on to question the validity of High and Supreme court rulings in previous attempts to extradite Mr Bailey.

In 2012, the Supreme Court rejected the first attempt at extradition.

In 2015, the High Court dismissed a second attempt as an abuse of process.

These, the French authorities asserted, may not be in line with the decisions from the European Court of Justice.

These concerns were to be conveyed to the Irish judiciary.

Yesterday’s hearing discussed the letter. Mr Justice Paul Burns came to the conclusion that the whole issue around it was something of “a storm in a teacup” and that, strictly speaking, this kind of communication should have been between the respective judicial authorities in both countries rather than through justice departments.

One way or the other he made it plain that the missive would have absolutely no bearing on any determination he or one of his colleagues would make in this case.

The separation of powers is a basic tenet of a functioning democracy.

File photo: Ian Bailey at court during his extradition hearing. Picture: Collins Courts
File photo: Ian Bailey at court during his extradition hearing. Picture: Collins Courts

No government should have any influence over the courts in the best interests of all citizens.

Here, it could be interpreted that the French government was attempting to influence the Irish courts.

One of the main strands in the refusal so far to extradite Bailey has been that the DPP has found he has no case to answer for a crime that was committed in this country.

Throughout the trial in Paris, there was repeated criticism of the DPP’s decision.

In summing up the case for the prosecution in Paris, lawyer M Bonthoux also questioned the decision of the Irish Supreme Court in 2012.

“The Irish Supreme Court thought the warrant was not valid in their law,” the prosecutor told the trail.

We have different views on how to process the law.

He went on to point out to the judges at the murder trial that a guilty verdict could be the basis for a fresh mandate for extradition.

“I want to see Ian Bailey making a defence and to condemn him face to face,” M Bonthoux said.

One of many unusual features to the French process is that were Bailey to be extradited he would be put on trial for a second time as he was absent for the conviction in May.

The French quite obviously believe that the Englishman has got away with murder.

The Irish system, by complete contrast, has repeatedly come to the conclusion that there isn’t enough evidence to even put him on trial, not to mind convict him.

In such a milieu communications like that discussed in the High Court yesterday have to be read as an attempt to bend Irish law to the will of the French.

The attempt came to naught but it does show the political stakes that are at issue in this latest effort to extradite Bailey.

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