Courting High Drama: Our Day with Ian Bailey

Caoilfhionn Sheil

JF Law | TCLR Junior Editorial Board


When it came to deciding what scintillating legal issue I would write about for this blog, a few different ideas came to mind. One was the concept of Dáil Privilege, recently brought into the public arena by Mary Lou McDonald TD regarding the Ansbacher accounts scandal. Another was the unenumerated rights doctrine; particularly the vague ideology behind the notion of ‘natural law’- how could the courts use this philosophy as justification for deciding cases when the logic behind so called ‘natural law’ varies in the eye of each person? However as I pondered these ideas, the media began to spout information about a case that was sure to capture the imagination of the public- Ian Bailey, ‘back for revenge’. So I decided to attend the High Court and write about my observations.

It was a cold, miserable December morning. We had finished up for the term the previous evening.  We rushed into the Four Courts at a quarter past eight, fully expecting a queue at the door. We went through the public entrance, placing our bags in the scanner machine and walking through a metal detector. It was all very exciting. The four of us made it inside. The place was deserted, except for a lone barrister texting away on his phone. Four of us sat in the light-saturated common area that a lot of the court rooms open onto, admiring the intricate architecture, still half-asleep, until finally, people started to arrive.

Eventually, court room three was opened up and the four of us marched in to get our seats. A friendly pensioner explained to us the dramatic note the previous day had ended on- Marie Farrell being seriously warned by the Judge of the ‘severe penal sanctions’ that apply to those who commit perjury. Mr Justice Hedigan came in and everyone rose. When everyone had settled back down, the day immediately got off to an exciting start. Mr Thomas Creed SC, representing Ian Bailey, tried to have the jury dismissed, saying that Judge Hedigan’s warning to Marie Farrell would have unfairly impacted upon Baileys’ case. Arguably, nothing would undermine the credibility of a witness in the eyes of a jury more than a highly learned individual such as a judge issuing such a warning. However, as Hedigan J explained to Mr. Creed SC, he had a duty to warn Ms. Farrell of the implications of lying on the witness stand. The articulate manner in which the Judge dismissed the barrister’s request left us awestruck.

It was at this point that the jury was brought in. I find it hard to imagine what it must be like for a person to turn up for jury duty only to find themselves part of what has been described as the most important case to be heard at the High Court in years. The cross examination of Marie Farrell then resumed. Question after question was put to the woman, her response was more often than not: ‘I can’t remember’. One could not help but pity her as she was questioned regarding conversations she had many years ago. However counsel for the State, Mr. Paul O’Higgins SC, was relentless.

The court broke for lunch at one and resumed at two. At this point a friend of Ian Bailey’s, Claire Wilkinson, gave evidence – giving Marie Farrell a short reprieve. Claire Wilkinson’s composure at the witness stand was remarkable. She acted as a character witness for Bailey, telling of how she had worked on a film script with him in Schull around the time of the murder and she had never felt afraid of him. She claimed that two gardaí had visited her around the time of the murder and asked her to give a statement saying that she was afraid of Bailey. She was questioned for about an hour in total, before Marie Farrell returned to the stand.

Mr. Paul O’Higgins SC, for the State, played a number of recordings of Marie Farrell calling the gardaí after she said that the majority of phone calls between her and the gardaí were instigated by her. She continued to be questioned until four o’clock in the afternoon, at which point the court finished for the day.

The four of us sat for a few minutes after everything had been wrapped up, talking to the other members of the public who were there as spectators. The enigmatic nature of the Barristers, the cool composure of Claire Wilkinson, the fact that Ian Bailey was a few feet away from where we were all sitting ensured that the drama of the day did not disappoint. We left the Four Courts high on a certain realisation: that behind all the Irish Legal System tests and the Constitutional Law essay, there is a clear and definite destination; no longer an abstract ideal somewhere in the distance, but something to strive for and be constantly aware of.

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