Anglo trial set to be longest in Irish history

ONE of the biggest trials in Irish legal history gets under way today, when three former bankers face charges of trying to inflate the share price of the now-defunct Anglo Irish Bank.

Seán FitzPatrick, the former chairman and one-time chief executive, former finance director Willie McAteer, and former chief financial officer Pat Whelan face a total of 16 charges.

The three are due before court 19 of the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin for a trial that is expected to last six months.

Vast amounts of financial evidence will be heard along with the assessment of 24m documents and 800 witness statements.

Q: What kind of trial will they undergo? A:

Trial by jury.

This is the form of trial under Irish law appropriate for those charged with indictable offences.

Trial by jury is a key feature of common law legal systems which evolved from the Anglo-Norman system of government in England. Trial by jury did not exist in Ireland under Brehon law.

In Ireland, the right to trial by jury is guaranteed by Article 38 of the Constitution. In addition to the right “that no person shall be tried on any criminal charge save in due course of law” it expressly provides that “no person shall be tried on any criminal charge without a jury”.

The only exceptions are summary offences, military tribunals or where the circumstances necessitate a special court established by statute. In recent years, this has been generally confined to members of subversive organisations. The 2009 Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act also provides an exception when dealing with criminal gangs.

Q: Is it always a 12-person jury?

A: It used to be but that is now no longer the case.

Laws introduced last January allow for up to 15 jurors to be sworn in for trials that will last longer than two months. Most of the selection process is set out in the 1976 Juries Act. A jury of 15 members — the first of its kind in Ireland — was sworn in last Friday for the trial of the three Anglo executives.

Before they were called, potential jurors were told they could not serve if they worked — or had previously worked — in any bank, including Anglo. Judge Martin Nolan also said that anyone who had expressed “strong public views” on Anglo Irish Bank or anyone who had owned shares in any bank were also prohibited from serving.

In the region of 1,500 jury summonses were issued by the Court Service, with 500 people attending for the jury empanelling. In less than three hours, a jury of 15 — eight men and seven women — had been sworn in at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. They include a sales rep, a nurse, a bus driver, an unemployed man, and a secretary to a trade union official.

Although only 12 will deliberate on a verdict, three substitutes will be present throughout the trial should a juror be unable to continue.

The trial is expected to be the longest criminal trial in Irish history, lasting up to six months.

Q: What are the functions and responsibilities of a juror?

A: Jurors have the responsibility of deciding whether a person is guilty or not guilty of the offence for which he/she has been charged. The jury must reach its verdict by considering only the evidence introduced in court and the directions of the judge.

Jurors may take notes of proceedings and may also pass notes to the foreman or forewoman of the jury to ask the judge to explain certain aspects of the case. That is likely to happen more than once in this trial, as there are very technical matters involving high finance under consideration.

Q: What are the rules of jury service?

A: Each juror must decide the facts of the case only, take directions relating to law from the trial judge, remain impartial and uninfluenced by anyone else.

All statements made in the jury room must be kept confidential and jurors must not discuss the case with anyone, other than members of the jury. It is contempt of court to repeat in public statements made in the jury room. All notes taken during the trial by jurors are not for public consumption and are subsequently destroyed.

Q: Are jurors paid for their service?

A: No. It is regarded as a civic duty and does not attract payment. Travelling expenses are not allowed, either.

Self-employed jurors receive nothing but, for those in paid employment, Section 29 of the Juries Act 1976 places a duty on the employer to allow staff attend for jury service, while continuing to pay them.

The law also states that the time spent on jury service is to be treated as if the employee were actually employed. If a juror is in employment and attending for jury service, he or she is entitled to be paid. Other employment rights remain intact while serving on a jury.

Any juror signing on for a jobseeker’s payment will continue to be paid, but should advise their local social welfare office that they have been called for jury service.

Q: Does the court provide childcare facilities?

A: No.

Q:What are the hours of attendance?

A: Jurors are usually required to attend between the hours of 10am and 4.30pm. However, the hours of attendance may vary and are entirely at the discretion of the judge.

Q: Is lunch provided?

A: Yes.

Q: Are jurors allowed home each day?

A: Generally, yes, but the judge has the discretion to direct that jurors stay together during the deliberation process at the end of the trial, in which case they are accommodated overnight in a nearby hotel.

Q: What happens when a juror becomes ill?

A: A court official is informed and the matter is brought to the attention of the judge. If the illness prevents the juror from attending court, he or she must obtain a medical certificate and have it delivered to the jury office in order to be excused. Once a juror is excused on the grounds of illness or incapacity he or she is not permitted to rejoin the jury at a later date.

Q: What happens when all the evidence has been heard?

A: At the end of the case, both the prosecution and the defence counsel summarise the facts for the jury and stress the merits of their own case.

The judge sums up the case and directs the jury to confine itself to the evidence presented in court and to disregard any media reports or extraneous material. The judge must direct the jury on any legal points that arise. As this case is a criminal one, the judge will also explain to the jury that it must be satisfied of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

While findings in civil cases are made on the balance of probabilities, criminal law requires a higher burden of proof. “Beyond reasonable doubt” means that if there are two opposing reasons given in the case and both are probable explanations for what happened, the jury should, taken together with the evidence, give the accused the benefit of the doubt and acquit.

Q: Does the verdict have to be unanimous?

A: No. In a criminal case, a verdict need not be unanimous where there are not fewer than 11 jurors if 10 of them agree on a verdict after considering the case for a reasonable time (not less than two hours).

When the jury has reached its decision, it will return to the court and the verdict will be read out by the foreman or forewoman.

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