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Graham Dwyer, ‘Mr Moonlight’ and Leaving Cert grades: Big Irish court cases in 2021

In court: the Kevin Lunney assault, Michael Lynn’s trial and Cervical Check claims

The new year in the Four Courts will see some key judgments, including one which publicans hope will aid their survival rather than mean closing time, and another with potentially far-reaching implications for workers, employers and the State.

The criminal courts also face a busy start to 2021, with judgment due on Pat Quirke's appeal over his conviction for the murder of Bobby "Mr Moonlight" Ryan in Co Tipperary, and the separate trial of four men in connection with an alleged assault on Kevin Lunney in Co Cavan.

Pubs insurance case

The fate of many pubs across the country hangs on the outcome of a High Court judgment, due in January, on the business interruption test cases relating to coronavirus cover brought by four pubs against FBD Insurance over the insurer’s failure to pay out.

Industrial relations cases

A significant Supreme Court judgment is expected in the first months of 2021 on a challenge by a dismissed worker to the constitutionality of new procedures under the Workplace Relations Act 2015 for deciding workplace disputes. Attorney General Paul Gallagher has said a finding of unconstitutionality in Tomasz Zalewski’s appeal would have “immense” implications beyond the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), affecting regulatory procedures in sectors including financial services, telecommunications, residential tenancies and data protection.

Trade unions and employer groups will also be closely monitoring a Government appeal to the Supreme Court over a High Court judgment which struck down the law providing for sectoral employment orders which set minimum pay and conditions for certain workers.

Graham Dwyer

Convicted murderer Graham Dwyer is expected back before the Supreme Court later this year for the finalisation of the State's appeal over a key High Court ruling against the validity of a 2011 Irish data-retention law central to the investigation and prosecution of serious crime.

The European Court of Justice is expected to deal early in 2021 with issues referred to it by the Supreme Court in the appeal, and the ECJ decision will impact on the final Supreme Court judgment. If the High Court ruling is upheld, Dwyer is expected to rely on it in his separate appeal to the Court of Appeal over his 2015 conviction for the murder of childcare worker Elaine O’Hara.

Data and Facebook

Data issues are also the focus of proceedings in the High Court's commercial division separately taken by Facebook and by Austrian data rights and privacy activist Max Schrems against the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC). Facebook Ireland wants the court to overturn a draft decision by the DPC that, arising from data protection concerns, data transfers to its US parent should be suspended, and to halt the commissioner's probe into those transfers.

Mr Schrems, whose case opens in January, wants the commissioner’s probe stopped for different reasons. He is concerned it will affect the investigation and outcome of his complaint to the DPC about the handling by Facebook of his personal data. His original complaint was made in 2013 and reformulated in 2015. The DPC’s probe remains stayed pending the outcome of the proceedings.

Leaving Cert grades

The High Court will rule early in the new year on the lead challenge over the calculated grades process for the 2020 Leaving Certificate. About 50 other cases are awaiting the outcome of the action by Freddie Sherry, a Leaving Cert student at Dublin's Belvedere College.

The Court of Appeal will hear an appeal on January 12th by the Minister for Education against a High Court decision overturning the exclusion of home-schooled students from the calculated grades process.

Cervical Check

Despite severe limitations on witness hearings in the High Court as a result of the pandemic, personal injury actions involving witnesses are continuing, and priority is likely to be given to cases over alleged misreading of smear tests taken under the national Cervical Check screening programme.

A brain-injured boy

Back in the Supreme Court, it is due to rule on an important appeal by the parents of a profoundly brain-injured boy, said by his hospital treating team to have no meaningful prospect of recovery from catastrophic injuries sustained in a road collision last summer. The parents have appealed a High Court order allowing the hospital to withhold invasive interventions, including CPR, should their son’s condition substantially deteriorate. The case raises significant issues concerning the rights of parents and children, and the threshold for intervention by the State in relation to the welfare of a child.

Pandemic proceedings

The coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted heavily on the courts' work, triggered proceedings by John Waters and Gemma O'Doherty, and the Court of Appeal will hear their appeal in January over the High Court's refusal to permit them to bring a challenge to the constitutionality of laws introduced in response to the pandemic.

Businessman Declan Ganley has separately sought to challenge, in High Court proceedings, certain regulations introduced in response to the pandemic. He alleges restrictions on attending Mass, implemented during the Level 5 lockdown, breach his constitutional right to religious freedom.

‘Mr Moonlight’

In the criminal courts a judgment is expected imminently from the Court of Appeal on the appeal by farmer Pat Quirke, of Breanshamore, Co Tipperary, over his conviction for the murder of Bobby Ryan, a DJ known as "Mr Moonlight", at Fawnagowan in Co Tipperary.

Two appeals

An appeal by Aaron Brady, of Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, against his August 2020 conviction of the murder of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe during an armed raid on the Lordship Credit Union in Co Louth, on January 25th, 2013, is expected to be heard early in 2021. Brady was sentenced to life in jail, with a stipulation that he serve at least 40 years in prison.

The Appeal Court will also later this year hear an appeal by a teenage boy against his conviction for the murder of a teenage girl.

Kevin Lunney assault

The trial of four men charged with falsely imprisoning and assaulting Kevin Lunney, the director of Manook, formerly Quinn Industrial Holdings, opens in January before the non-jury Special Criminal Court (SCC). Luke O'Reilly (66), Mullahoran Lower, Kilcogy, Co Cavan; Darren Redmond (25), Caledon Road, East Wall; Alan O'Reilly (39), Shelmalier Road, East Wall; and a man who cannot be named for legal reasons are charged with false imprisonment and assault causing serious harm to Mr Lunney at Drumbrade, Ballinagh, Co Cavan, on September 17th, 2019.

Jim Mansfield jnr

The trial of Jim Mansfield jnr, who has been accused of setting up a longtime employee so he could be taken prisoner by a gang, is set to resume at the SCC in January after having been interrupted in November by the emergence of potential new evidence. Mr Mansfield (53), of Saggart, Co Dublin, denies conspiring with one or more persons to falsely imprison Martin Byrne in 2015.

Five murders

The Central Criminal Court has listed five trials of murder charges in the first three months of this year, including that of Michael Scott, from Portumna, Co Galway. He is due for trial in January on a charge of the murder of 75-year-old Chrissie Treacy at Derryhivney, Boule, Portumna, on April 27th, 2018.

Michael Lynn

In Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, the trial of solicitor Michael Lynn (51) on 21 charges related to the alleged theft of almost €30 million from seven financial institutions is due to open on January 11th, and is likely to take a number of months.