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Interim press ban for drugs accused facing trial after self-harm threat

Court lady justice

A man aged in his sixties is to stand trial on a charge relating to the alleged supply of drugs, however due to an interim court order he cannot be named after claiming he will self-harm if identified in the media.

Aged in his sixties, the accused appeared before Dungannon Crown Court pleading not guilty to being concerned in the supply of herbal cannabis between August 19-25, 2019.

The interim reporting ban was imposed when he first appeared at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court, remaining in place throughout a number of adjournments while defence lawyers sought medical evidence to support their client’s claim.

They initially provided a GP note which is insufficient and did not assert risk to the required statutory level.

After another adjournment during which further medical evidence was to be obtained the defence presented further GP note also not indicating risk to the required threshold.

However, rather than adjourn again, the defence requested the interim order to stay in place and he would seek psychiatric assessment ahead of the next hearing at crown court.

Despite Press objections on the lack of expert evidence, the judge allowed the interim ban to remain.

This was highlighted with the Lady Chief Justice as the order was granted on insufficient evidence, despite several adjournments to obtain this.

The judge also grounded the order on the defence assertion of obtaining a psychiatric report to present on the next occasion.

But when the case reached crown court, there was no report.

A defence barrister requested the interim order was extended while he organised a psychiatric assessment.

He claimed the interim order at the lower court was granted on “compelling evidence from the GP” and pointed to “a note of sorts from a community psychiatric nurse” handed to the court.

This was still insufficient evidence.

Judge Peter Irvine QC enquired if the note had been shared with Press to which the defence replied: “I’m reluctant. This is a dangerous precedent whereby the press are being invited to pick through very private details.”

He contended the accused’s rights “trumped” all others including press.

Judge Irvine told the defence: “The bottom line here is, there isn’t any evidence presented to the court to suggest the normal reporting situation cannot pertain, because I have not seen any documentation to say the threshold of real and imminent risk has been crossed.”

In response, the defence contended the note from the community psychiatric nurse was sufficient to substantiate this.

Part of the press challenge highlighted the apparent absence of a treating psychiatrist in respect of the accused.

In addition, despite purported increased concerns of self-harm, there did not appear to be any requirement to have the accused admitted to hospital.

Judge Irvine agreed to extend the interim order to allow for a psychiatric assessment and report.

The case will be reviewed on January 28.

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