Judge's rage as technical failure leaves jurors waiting in Tullamore hotel
A JUDGE said he was incandescent with rage on behalf of potential jurors who were sitting in a Tullamore hotel for more than two hours and were never called to court because of technical difficulties.
Because of Covid-19 social distancing requirements, when juries are being empanelled for trials at Tullamore Circuit Court they must first gather in large rooms in the Bridge House Hotel instead of the courthouse.
From those in the hotel, a smaller number are selected by a random draw which is carried out by video link between the courthouse on Cormac Street and the hotel in the town centre.
They are then transported to the courthouse where final jury selection takes place in the presence of the judge and the 12 chosen jurors are seated at a distance from each other around the courtroom.
Up to eight criminal trials, some of which could last up to five days, were before the Circuit Court on Wednesday morning and Judge Keenan Johnson hoped to empanel two juries with a view to beginning one of the trials later this week.
Judge Johnson explained that the 56 people from whom the juries would be chosen had been split evenly between two different rooms in the hotel but due to technical issues, a link could only be made with one room at a time.
That would mean that judge would have to make his initial address by videolink to the jurors twice instead of once.
Empanelling a jury was then delayed so that the technical issues could be resolved but by nearly 12 noon, two hours after the jurors had gone to the Bridge House, there was no link to the hotel at all.
Judge Johnson said the other option of bringing all the potential jurors to the largest courtroom in the courthouse was not available either because the District Court was sitting there.
“I'm left with no option but to abandon the efforts to empanel a jury today,” he said.
He decided another attempt would be made on Friday morning.
“I want all technical issues sorted out and that there be a proper connection between here and the hotel.”
He also said that consideration should be given to what is done at Mullingar Circuit Court where the entire court takes place in a hotel with the capacity to hold the entire jury panel, and the court proceedings as well.
“This is absolutely farcical. The inconvenience that people have been put to is outrageous,” declared Judge Johnson.
He said he was “completely and utterly” embarrassed at the “incompetence” that had arisen where a “simple link from the courthouse to a hotel less than 500 metres away can't be sustained”.
He said a professional company has been employed by the public service to provide that link and at a time when anyone could WhatsApp video call someone else or speak to 20 others by Zoom, he did not know why a link could not be established.
The judge added that it would be an understatement to say that he was incandescent with rage for the people in the hotel and the cost to the State.
“The matter will be followed up with the powers that be.”
He said apologies should be sent to the people who had waited in the hotel but they also had to be told that they were now required to attend again on Friday morning.
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