Dungannon Court House
A judge at Dungannon Magistrates Court has highlighted the importance of following procedures when lawyers apply to have Press banned from reporting their clients identifies.
District Judge Michael Ranaghan was speaking after Press challenged an anonymity order granted for a thirty-nine-year-old man facing disorderly behaviour and motoring charges.
Last month, Mark Anthony Michael Bell from Beechland Gardens, Portglenone was due in court but did not appear as it was explained he was attending his GP.
A defence lawyer applied for anonymity contending Bell was suffering from mental health issues.
It is a requirement to put Press on notice ahead of applying to restrict any aspect of reporting court cases, but this was not done.
In addition, there was no evidence in support of risk to Bell, if his identity was published.
Nonetheless the judge on that occasion granted the order, and while it is a requirement to advise Press what can be reported, this too was not done.
Press submitted a challenge through the Office of the Lord Chief Justice, and the matter was revisited at the most recent hearing.
When the defence pointed out they were no longer seeking to retain anonymity, Judge Ranaghan said, “That’s pragmatic, because I wouldn’t have renewed it.”
He added: “It is important these orders are properly monitored. I want to establish if it should have been granted in the first place.”
Matters were adjourned for a time and on return the defence said anonymity was only ever going to be temporary – something never communicated to press.
He explained Bell contacted him ahead of the previous court appearance claiming publication of the case could cause him to become suicidal. The defence decided to apply for anonymity as a precaution, contending medical evidence was submitted.
But Judge Ranaghan pointed out while that may have been so, there was no confirmation of risk which is the statutory threshold. He added the sitting judge may have been “caught on the hop”.
The defence conceded there had been “deficiencies.”
Judge Ranaghan said, “For future reference, Press should be put on notice and it would be beneficial if the court also had advance notice. They should not be last minute, unless absolutely unavoidable.”
Turning to the case, the court heard police attended an incident at 1.30pm on September 21 at Hammond Street, Moneymore, where a car was stopped halfway across a junction.
Bell approached officers telling them, “Someone has taken my keys.”
Two members of the public advised they encountered Bell, and believing him to be intoxicated, “confiscated” his keys to prevent him driving any further.
He refused to provide a breath specimen, and began shouting foul and aggressive language to police.
Once in custody however he co-operated fully and provided a breath specimen which returned a reading of 86mcg of alcohol, 51mcg in excess.
During interview, Bell accepted all matters telling police he had a significant alcohol problem and relapsed after a long period of sobriety.
He, “apologised unreservedly and deeply regretted his behaviour.”
Accepting there is a relevant record with the latest drink-driving occurring within the 10 year period of a previous conviction, the defence said, “Any consumption of alcohol is lethal to my client.”
Judge Ranaghan told Bell, “Your record for drink-driving is very poor, and the reading was high. I have no choice but custody, however that will be suspended.”
A sentence of four months imprisonment was imposed, suspended for two years, along with a £150 fine and a driving disqualification for three-and-a-half years.
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