Shielding of Lillis witness defended

 

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has defended the shielding of a witness from the media during the recent trial of Eamonn Lillis for the killing of his wife Celine Cawley.

Lillis was sentenced last week to six years and 11 months in prison for manslaughter.

Jean Treacy, with whom Lillis had been having an affair at the time he killed his wife, was allowed to use an underground entrance to the new court complex in Dublin to evade waiting media while arriving to give evidence.

She was also driven from the complex in a Garda vehicle after giving evidence.

Mr Murphy said the decision to facilitate the access of Ms Treacy to and from the court, was “an operational one which I fully support".

"This decision was made with all due regard to the particular needs and circumstances of the witness including certain issues which arose prior to the trial commencing."

Mr Murphy said witnesses should be free to resume their lives without media intrusion once their role in a trial has concluded.

“It would be a grave development if individuals were also to be dissuaded from contacting gardaí with valuable information or evidence because of an anxiety or fear that their privacy would be the price exacted for their contribution”.

“While giving evidence in a criminal trial can be said to constitute a public duty, giving evidence does not in my view make a private citizen a public figure,” he added.

Mr Murphy issued the statement in response to media questions about the circumstances surrounding the access to the courts given to Ms Treacy.

He also noted comments of the presiding judge, Mr Justice Barry White, in the Lillis trial about media coverage of the case.

"These are all matters which in my view are worthy of further discussion. I look forward to discussing them with the representatives of the National Newspapers of Ireland with whom I have scheduled a meeting in the near future at their request.”

In a statement, National Newspapers of Ireland said it did not accept that any witness in a case should be brought into court by the gardai “by stealth”.

The representative organisation said article 34 of the Constitution provided that justice shall be administered in public.

“That is the very first obligation placed on the Courts and the system of justice in deciding how we provide for the regulation and conduct of society.”

NNI said it was “very conscious of the difficulties that can be encountered by all parties involved in criminal prosecutions”.

“All crimes especially murders are heinous and sordid and run in the face of morality and ordered society. They are particularly difficult for victims (and in the case of murder, their families), accused persons, prosecutors, judges and legal representatives. Those who are not involved professionally do not wish to be there.”

"It is the function of media in a democratic state to report crimes and the circumstances surrounding them. In this country, and every country has its own practices, there has been a long tradition of reporting on the conduct of all parties in any trial.”

“We do not accept that any witness in a case, other than as directed by a court for good reason or as prescribed by law, can or should be brought into court by the gardai by stealth.”

NNI said Ireland did not have televised courts, unlike the USA and some European states, which it said “makes the reporting function provided by the media to the public all the more important especially that of identifying and representing the visage and face of a witness”.

“We do not deny that being caught up wittingly or unwittingly in a serious trial, especially a murder case, is pleasant but unfortunately society is imperfect, citizens commit crimes and the media has a right and a duty to report on such matters.”

It sad Ms Treacy “was accorded special treatment without apparent legal jurisdiction, sanction or authority”.

“NNI looks forward to discussing these issues with the Garda Commissioner at our forthcoming meeting.”