District Court decisions on trials may be reviewed


A number of District Court decisions sending people charged prior to October 1st last for trial on serious charges may have to be reviewed following a Supreme Court finding yesterday.

Lawyers were last night studying the implications of the court's dismissal of the DPP's appeal against a High Court judge's decision to quash a District Court order sending a man forward for trial on charges of false imprisonment and unlawful killing.

Yesterday's appeal involved Mr Joseph Zambra, from Inagh Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin.

The District Court sent Mr Zambra for trial on October 31st last year, weeks after procedures to be followed in such cases came into force in the 1999 Criminal Justice Act.

The new procedures mean that an accused will be returned for trial without the holding of a preliminary examination in the District Court. The 1999 Act also provides that under Section 4 an accused may apply to the "trial court" to have the charge against him dismissed for lack of a "sufficient case" (the old test in a District Court in a preliminary examination).

The new procedures in the 1999 Act replace those set out in the 1967 Criminal Procedure Act. They provided that where a person was returned for trial on indictment a District judge "shall conduct a preliminary examination...".

Mr Justice Hardiman said yesterday Mr Zambra was returned for trial without the charges against him being the subject of a preliminary examination under the 1967 Act. This was done in the belief that, because of the new 1999 legislation, it was no longer necessary to conduct such an examination and that the new provisions applied to Mr Zambra's case.

Whether this was a correct interpretation depended on the construction of the transitional provisions of Section 23 of the 1999 Act, which stated that if before the commencement of the new Act "any steps" had been taken "under" the 1967 Act in relation to the prosecution of an accused person, then the 1967 Act would continue to apply.

The issue for the court was whether any step "under" the 1967 Act had been taken in relation to Mr Zambra's prosecution.

Mr Justice Hardiman said the court was focusing on one of the "steps" to be taken "under" the 1967 legislation - the District Court's order extending time for the service of a book of evidence.

Mr Zambra was brought before the District Court on February 8th, 2001, and remanded on bail four times, finally to July 17th, 2001, when charged with other offences. The District judge was told the DPP had directed all charges to be dealt with on indictment. Service of the book of evidence was adjourned to October 23rd, after the 1999 Act came into force.

Mr Justice Hardiman said in the court's view the orders extending the time for the service of the book of evidence were steps taken "under" the 1967 Act.

He dismissed the DPP's appeal and affirmed the High Court order.