An Oireachtas inquiry into how Circuit Court Judge Brian Curtin came to be charged with possession of child pornography will make no judgments, the Supreme Court heard today. In a last-ditch effort to stop the Oireachtas committee investigation, lawyers for the Tralee judge told the court that the committee would not be able to issue any recommendations on his future.
John Rogers, SC for Judge Curtain, told the seven-judge court that the investigation headed by politicians would simply be a gathering of evidence. Judge Curtin was acquitted of possessing child pornography in April last year, on direction of the trial judge. It was ruled evidence found on the judge's computer could not be admitted as it had been seized on an out of date warrant and was therefore in breach of his constitutional rights.
Mr Rogers told the court a major plank of the case was that the committee had no fact-finding power. He said in essence it would be a commission with no right to adjudicate. "It's plain that the committee cannot make any finding of fact or recommendation," he said. Mr Rogers told the courtroom that any material gathered by the committee would be handed to the Oireachtas unedited. He said it would include bundles of statements, evidence from computer experts and information gathered and presented to Tralee Circuit Court last year.
As part of the constitutional challenge to the Oireachtas inquiry, Mr Rogers outlined his client's defence that his computer had been invaded by viruses known as "Trojans". "My real complaint is this, that this material does not constitute a finding of fact about anything," he told the court. "This is the essential point and the point I would not want to lose." Mr Rogers said the committee would hear technical evidence from computer experts on how Judge Curtin's computer could have been infected. He insisted gardaí had accepted the existence of viruses as an explanation of how child pornography was allegedly found on the computer.
Mr Rogers also stressed that there would be conflicts of evidence from expert witnesses regarding the judge's computer. He said it would be left up to individual politicians to decide who they believed. Lawyers for Judge Curtin are challenging the constitutionality of a committee set up under Article 35 to gather information on his arrest and being charged before presenting it to the Oireachtas. The committee would operate in private unless Judge Curtin requested otherwise. Under the Constitution, it would make no findings of fact, presenting all collected information to politicians, who would then decide whether to impeach the Judge.
Judge Curtin lost a High Court challenge to the committee earlier this year. He claimed he should be tried by the Houses of the Oireachtas rather than give evidence to a committee. But the Oireachtas had no powers of trial. The hearing is expected to last around three days. It is also expected that lawyers for the judge will seek to have any evidence contained in his computer excluded as it was obtained unconstitutionally.
It is only the third occasion in the history of the State that all seven Supreme Court judges have heard a case. Previously the judges have ruled on the constitutionality of charging residents in nursing homes for their care, the legality of the Abbeylara inquiry into the shooting of a man by gardaí at an isolated farmhouse, and the right of a disabled child to continue in education.
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