Judge Neilan critical of district realignment

A marathon session at Mullingar District Court came to an end at 7.15pm last week. Those who had waited to the bitter end staggered from the courthouse bewildered and exhausted.

Defendants whose cases hadn’t been reached by that late hour left the building angry and frustrated at having lost a day’s work or play.

For them, there was little consolation in hearing their cases would be prioritised when they have their next day in court. In recessionary times there’s nothing to look forward to in having to ask an employer for another day off or pay for a babysitter – that’s if there’s one out there willing to work a ten hour day.

Lunch hour stretched into two and then three hours, as juvenile and family law cases were heard in camera.

Excluding applications and last-minute charges, there were 136 turns on the list, with a number of defendants appearing more than once, and a considerable number of those turns representing more than one charge or summons.

At 6.15pm, Judge John Neilan said he was not going any further, that he had been trying to work as hard and as fast as he could and despite the fact that there was at least two hours work left, stated “I can’t and don’t intend to work any faster.”

The catalyst for the decision was the list of 19 turns involving members of the Nevin family, many of whom had the same names and most of whom were involved in two separate incidents which were being remanded to two separate dates. This led to a degree of frustration and confusion among solicitors, court staff, gardaí, and indeed the judge, as dates of birth and addresses were confirmed.

There were four David Nevins and a number of Hugh and John Nevins all with different addresses. At one point the judge asked respectfully that if any of them had a nickname they might share it with their solicitor, not for the purpose of the name being heard in court but so the solicitors could tell their clients apart when their names were called.

He said the President of the District Court had expressed the wish that he finish at 4pm and he understood that the new alignment of court districts would lead to days concluding earlier.

“When I wanted to work until seven, eight, and nine I was criticised constantly for late sittings. My understanding of life was ‘work and put your shoulder to the wheel’,” said the clearly disgruntled Roscommon man.

When he was reminded by the court clerk that there were still some defendants in custody he replied “Let them ring the President of the District Court.”

He said he needed to keep his concentration up to the max and that he was also anxious to work. Yet he said he was not prepared to leave himself open to any further criticism from statutory bodies.

He asked how he was supposed to manage a list as long as the one before him.

However, as people began to move, he ordered them to stay, saying the court had not adjourned yet and he proceeded to deal with other business.

There was a brief break during the evening.

At 7.15pm, when he expressed surprise that the hour had passed so quickly, he remarked he had been thinking of District Judge John McGee whom he knew when he started working first in the Dublin Metropolitan Courts.

He recalled the words of Judge McGee.

“John Neilan, if I sit beyond 4pm I’m likely to make a mistake; if I sit beyond 5pm I’ll definitely make a mistake.”

“It’s now gone 7pm and there’s an hour’s work left to do. Some realignment!”

Before he rose, he apologised to those who were still waiting to have cases heard and said he would endeavour to see that they be given priority on the adjourn date.


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