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Judge lambasts PPS decision to prosecute sexual assault case in lower court

Craigavon Court

A judge has lambasted the decision by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to prosecute an alleged child sexual assault case in the magistrates’ court.

At Craigavon Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Bernie Kelly adjourned the case of Neil Hull (42) to November 17, asking the directing officer in the case to review the jurisdiction.

Mr Hull, of Orient Circle, Lurgan, appeared before the court via videolink from Maghaberry accused of two counts of sexual assault against two children on May 20 this year.

At the the outset of the hearing a defence lawyer informed the court that their client was pleading not guilty to the charges.

Judge Kelly then called into question the decision to prosecute the case in the magistrates’ court, given the gravity of the charges, asking: “Is it suitable for the Magistrates’ Court when you look at the age difference?”

She continued: “These are offences where the court, the judge, has no legal ability to decline jurisdiction. In other words, this court can only hear these offences if that is a decision made by the PPS… the court’s hands are tied.

“The decision to prosecute is solely down to the PPS. The court has no input, so I have a case of a man who is 42-years-of-age currently and the allegations are that he has sexually touched a child…  and the PPS considered that appropriate for the Magistrates Court?”

Judge Kelly then asked that the directing officer look at the case again, noting that the maximum sentence she could impose would be six months.

She added: “If he were to plead guilty, he’s entitled to reduction in that, for allegedly at this stage, sexually touching two children… this is not a suitable case for the magistrates’ court in my opinion.”

Adjourning the case for two weeks until November 17, Judge Kelly added: “It may actually be one that the legislators may want to look at.”

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