There is nothing to stop the State proceeding with a fifth trial process in the case of Sandra Higgins, though the 37-year-old from Cavan could mount a legal challenge to stop it, informed legal sources have said.
Ms Higgins (37) of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan, had pleaded not guilty to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to a baby girl at the accused’s home on March 28th, 2012.
One source pointed to the long held legal view that an accused could only be tried three times.
“It was never clear did that mean a trial process started three times, or a trial concluded three times without a verdict,” said one senior barrister.
He added the Supreme Court in recent years effectively ruled against the view that three trials was the maximum. It did so in relation to Niall Byrne (36), of Crumlin Road Flats, Dublin.
He was convicted last month of being the “inside man” in a cash in transit van robbery in March, 2005, when a Securicor worker and his family were held captive in their home in north Dublin and just over €2 million was stolen.
After the first trials ended with a hung jury, Byrne attempted to halt any further prosecution but the Supreme Court eventually ruled he could be tried again.
Legal sources said while Sandra Higgins had now been through four processes, only one was a full trial and in the other attempted trials very little evidence had been heard.
For that reason they said they would not be surprised if the case went to trial again. But they added Ms Higgins could also go to the courts and challenge any further plans to prosecute her on the basis it was impacting on her mental state.
“It definitely would not be a formality but she could go and argue that this was very much undermining her mentally,” said one source.
In June, 2015, Ms Higgins first went on trial but the jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict. A retrial followed in May, 2016, but it collapsed after it emerged a jury had done independent research online - Googling the background of a witness in the case.
In January, 2018, another jury was sworn in for a third trial but an unspecified legal issue arose before the trial properly opened. It meant the jury was discharged.
And now, during the fourth effort to try the case, the trial has collapsed. This time emails between expert witnesses in the case had not been disclosed to the defence.
The fact the expert witnesses were in contact would normally not be contentious but it was the inadvertent non-disclosure of that contact to the defence side in the trial that caused problems.
Judge Pauline Codd said as a result she was satisfied there was a reasonable doubt the accused could not get a fair trial.