‘If I get coronavirus I’ll last two or three days at most,’ accused tells judge

Impact of Covid-19 crisis evident in almost every case before Dublin District Courts

The Chief Justice  said the nine members of the Supreme Court were concerned about holding physical hearings in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photograph: Collins Courts

The Chief Justice said the nine members of the Supreme Court were concerned about holding physical hearings in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photograph: Collins Courts

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“I won’t stand a chance in prison. If I get coronavirus I’ll last two or three days at most,” the man told Judge Anthony Halpin.

The court heard the accused is HIV positive and is, therefore, extremely vulnerable to Covid-19. The arresting garda had some sympathy but objected to bail because of the serious nature of the alleged offence.

The garda told the court he had arrested the 48-year-old near the scene of a shop robbery in west Dublin on Saturday. The accused was caught in part because gardaí found his discarded face mask and surgical gloves near the scene of the crime.

Aggravating the case was the fact that the accused was released from prison only in March after serving just four months of a two-year sentence for robbery. He was one of about 200 prisoners granted early release by prison officials who are terrified of the prospect of a Covid-19 outbreak in the crowded penal system.

“Given his health problems, would you agree prison might not be the best place for him?” the defence solicitor asked.

“I had considered that but he was given a chance in March and here we are,” the garda replied.

Judge Halpin was also unconvinced by the accused’s claim that prison would endanger his life. “That is a pretty unfair charge to level against this court. I don’t accept that,” he said.

He refused bail and remanded the man in custody until next month. The accused called the garda a “scumbag” as he was led away.

He will spend the next week in Cloverhill alongside 352 other prisoners. Like all other new inmates he will have to spend 14 days in isolation on arrival. By way of compensation, they can now get Netflix in their cells.

Awaiting results

For now at least, the prison system is officially free of coronavirus but several inmates are displaying symptoms and awaiting test results.

The impact of the coronavirus crisis was evident in almost every case before the Dublin District Courts on Monday.

In Court 1, Garda Alan Hughes brought in a man he arrested on Sunday for allegedly spitting on gardaí while claiming to have Covid-19. A judge agreed to release the man on bail as long as he abides by the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions.

The suspects were brought to and from court by prison guards wearing full face shields and plastic aprons.

Some of the detainees wore face masks, some did not. One woman wearing a face mask was brought from the Dóchas Centre to face a series of begging charges.

The woman was unable to appear last week because she was in isolation after displaying symptoms of the virus. “Can you tell me anything more about that?” Judge Gráinne Malone asked on Monday. The solicitor could not. “Is anyone here from the Dóchas Centre?” she asked. There was not. The accused was sentenced to time served.

After midday a man was brought before Judge Malone with severe facial injuries. He had been granted temporary release last Friday and “thrown out of the prison system”, his solicitor said. According to gardaí, less than 24 hours later he allegedly broke into a woman’s apartment and stole her bank card.

The judge agreed to grant bail if the man could produce a €450 surety. “What money do you want? I was robbed. Look at my f**king face,” the man replied. Judge Malone agreed to reduce the surety to €350 and the man was taken to Cloverhill.

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice on Monday said the nine members of the Supreme Court were concerned about holding physical hearings in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Chief Justice Frank Clarke made the comments as the court conducted its first ever hearing via remote video. The Chief Justice stressed, while such remote hearings were likely to prove suitable for most cases in appellate courts, different considerations would apply in trial courts.

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