Accused loses challenge to handover of data to NI authorities

Michael Burns facing attempted murder charge of prison officer in North in 1977

A 67-year-old Belfast man on Tuesday lost a High Court challenge to his 1970s Portlaoise Prison medical records being handed over to the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland for use as evidence in an attempted murder charge he faces.

Michael Burns, of Cliftonville Avenue, Belfast, who is one of the people known as the "on-the-runs," is charged in the North with the attempted murder of off-duty prison officer John Carlisle in north Belfast in 1977 and possession of a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

The Minister for Justice here had been asked in 2013 to provide the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with all medical records which showed or tended to show that prior to his admission to Portlaoise Prison in 1977 Burns had suffered a gunshot wound to either of his hands.

The Minister for Justice had been told that the reason for requesting the medical records was that Carlisle had fired a revolver and wounded one of two attackers near his home on June 28th, 1977.


District Court Judge John O'Neill had reviewed the medical evidence and, having refused solicitor Michael Finucane an adjournment to take detailed instructions and prepare detailed submissions on behalf of Mr Burns, had directed the documents be handed over to the Minister.

Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley said Mr Finucane had been granted leave to judicially review Judge O’Neill’s decision on grounds that it breached Mr Burns’ Constitutional and European rights. He sought to quash the decision and a declaration that Judge O’Neill’s refusal of an adjournment was unreasonable and in breach of fair procedures.

Hand X-rays

Judge O’Malley said no medical documents had been opened before her in the High Court but said the deputy governor of Portlaoise Prison in the District Court had produced 38 documents from Mr Burns’ general file including reports of prison officers as to the compliance or non-compliance of Mr Burns with efforts to bring him to hospital for X-rays of his hand.

She said one of the documents was a letter written by Mr Burns to the governor in November 1979 in which he sought temporary release for the purpose of medical treatment. He had stated in the letter that he was suffering from a serious injury to his hand and that several small pieces of metal were lodged in it.

Mr Finucane had submitted that medical records could not be released without the consent of the individual.

Judge O’Malley, refusing Mr Burns’s application, said he had put no evidence before the court as to any matter touching on the fairness of any trial he might receive. It was not sufficient to simply assert that the alleged offences dated from many years ago and that prejudice may be inferred from that fact.

The judge said the District Court judge did not have the role of providing assistance to the PSNI inquiry. That was for the Minister to decide.

A court stay on documents being handed over to the PSNI remains in place. The matter was adjourned until October 13th next.