Tag: newcastle west

Lights, camera, action?

I am not alone in wondering what the status of Limerick City & County Council’s Smart CCTV surveillance system is. County councillors have been asking what the delay with the system is and it appeared some weeks ago that the provision of legal advice to the Council was imminent but, as far as I can see, it has not been presented to councillors for consideration.

(See my previous post for some background on community surveillance and Limerick.)

The Data Protection Commission had told me last month that their office was not going to investigate complaints against the Limerick scheme because a national study on public CCTV was to commence within weeks, part of which would look at the Limerick scheme. However, the Commission also told me that it was their “understanding that the CCTV systems … are not in operation.” They did not state where that understanding came from. Somewhat unusually, the Commission does not appear to have made any public statement about its national study other than what was reported in the Irish Times in March.

So, I asked Limerick City & County Council if the cameras were recording. This request was made under section 3 of the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2018, which allows individuals to see if an organisation is processing personal data. The Council have today told me that the surveillance system is active and recording footage. They say, however, that the footage is not currently being accessed because the cameras are being tested.

The Council’s position on this is that the system is in a “transitional” status and not a “live” or “operational” one because the footage is not being monitored. They say that the system is not not yet “live” because the Council is finalising its CCTV policy in line with the GDPR and data protection legislation. However, it is clear that the cameras are recording and the Council is, therefore, processing personal data (see Article 4 GDPR for the definition of “processing”). It is not clear what is being done with the footage recorded or what the testing of it involves.

A notable aspect of the Limerick scheme is that it has been authorised by the Garda Commissioner under section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which provides for authorisations of community surveillance only for public order. The then Acting Commissioner confirmed to me in January that the authorisation granted was “for the sole or primary purpose of securing public order and safety in public places by facilitating the deterrence, prevention, detection and prosecution of offences.” The Council tell me that the primary purpose of the scheme is public order and safety “including” the following:

I was particularly interested in the reference to the “perception of safety” – the Council’s own statistics in the report that lead to the surveillance system show a significant drop in reported crime in many areas, including Newcastle West.

The Data Protection Commission will have to decide, in the first instance, whether or not the purposes to which the Council wishes to put its surveillance network are a justified and proportionate infringement on the privacy rights of individuals.  The remarkably vague reference to “open data” gives rise to further concern and it is again astonishing that a privacy impact assessment does not appear to have been done in advance of planning such a system.

It remains to be seen how piggybacking these additional purposes on the surveillance system is compatible with the section 38 authorisation granted by the Garda Commissioner. The Commissioner has not yet confirmed the position on that point but the previous Acting Commissioner confirmed to me that they had not, for example, authorised ANPR or tourism cameras.

Whatever results from the national study, it will be interesting to see where the Data Protection Commission obtained the understanding that Limerick’s surveillance system was not in operation and how the Council’s continuing preparations for the full operation and monitoring of the system will interact with the Commission’s national study.

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Community surveillance & Limerick’s Smart CCTV scheme

A Smart CCTV installation in The Square, Newcastle West

I have had a draft blog post lingering for many months addressing some of the issues and concerns with community surveillance, particularly in light of Limerick’s “Smart CCTV” scheme which, I believe, will be a model for a national network of community surveillance.

Quite a lot has since been written (and spoken) about the issue so I include links below to various reports and discussions about the scheme, and some other schemes around the country.

The Data Protection Commission is about to conduct an examination of public sector CCTV schemes nationally. The results of this will be interesting, particularly if one is to interpret anything from the recently-published proposed list of activities that will require a data protection impact assessment under the GDPR (I suggest that one should).

Given the commencement of the GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018, and the forthcoming examination by the DPC, one would think that they State authorities might pause these systems so that a national approach to them could be put in place before expanding their scope further. The opposite seems to be the case.

Media coverage

Other background information

New site for the day job

IMG_3405You might be interested in visiting the new site of the firm I work in – PG McMahon Solicitors. The site includes a blog (under the Updates heading) which will have more of a legal updates focus than the comment one of this blog. Check it out, and consider liking our Facebook page and following our Twitter account to keep up to date with posts.

Challenging court closures

A few years ago there were concerns, which sometimes resurface, that the Courts Service might close the District Court in Newcastle West and transfer its sittings elsewhere. The only logical venue would be Limerick city, which would raise a number of problems for the Courts Service, lawyers and their clients.

It appears unlikely, at least for now, and in the past year some areas have been added to the Newcastle West district. Court sittings have also been reorganised. Other districts have not been so lucky and have lost out on their local court house.

The West Cork Bar Association has recently been granted leave by the High Court to challenge the closure of the court in Skibereen.

The West Cork District Court area extends from Kinsale westwards as far as Castletownbere. In recent years, there has already been seven local courts closed by the Courts Service in the West Cork area, the most recent being Kinsale District Court which sat for the last time on December 19.

The West Cork Bar Association issued a statement yesterday saying solicitors were concerned court closures were seriously eroding access to justice for people living in the region. The organisation said that if more closures were allowed to proceed, the people of West Cork would face travelling long distances to Cork City to deal with district court matters, when under the Constitution, the State has to provide courts of local and limited jurisdiction.

Solicitors pointed out that vulnerable citizens, who require the urgent assistance of the district court, such as in a domestic violence situation, will find it much more difficult to access the help and protection they need.

I mentioned previously a High Court judgment which dismissed a challenge brought by solicitors in New Ross area against the temporary relocation of court sittings to Ardcavan. The challenge was on public interest grounds and on the basis that the move threatened the applicant’s right to earn a living.

In that case, the Courts Service argued that solicitors do not have locus standi (a legal interest) to challenge the closure. Mr Justice Hedigan rejected that argument:

I accept that as solicitors practising in the relevant area they have a strong interest in the decision sought to be quashed both in their own and their clients interest. The question is fairly posed “if they do not have locus standi – who does?” The fact their interest coincides with the public interest does not, it seems to me, alter anything. In my view, the applicants have the requisite locus standi to challenge the decision made.

However, in the New Ross case the transfer was originally intended to be temporary due to an “urgent need” where the courthouse was “unsafe or otherwise unusable” and therefore the challenge was dismissed. Mr Justice Hedigan’s decision obviously leaves the wider questions open:

  1. is a court closure an attack on the constitutional right of local solicitors to earn a living; and
  2. is a court closure an attack on the constitutional right of citizens to have access to justice?

We might get an answer from Skibereen.

For how long will your local District Court be in your district area, or local?

Newcastle West District Court

Today, the Limerick Leader reports on informal discussions between the Courts Service and the Gardaí about moving sittings of the Newcastle West District Court to Kilmallock, about 36 kilometres away. Kilmallock has benefitted from huge investment in recent years, whereas Newcastle West District Court remains antiquated and with few facilities. However, it is still a functioning Court building.

It goes without saying that moving District Court sittings to Kilmallock would have a significant impact on business in the town. The effect would be felt not only (not even most severely) by solicitors, who already travel around the region to represent clients at various hearings. It would, however, force a further downturn on the restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops in the town that get a considerable lift to their business when the court sits.

For those not familiar with Newcastle West, it’s an old market town in West Limerick. It’s the biggest town in the County and familiar to many travelling to Kerry as the main road passes through.

The town has its origins in a castle (the old castle) erected by the Knights Templars in 1184 and since then it has played an important role in West Limerick. Part of that role has been the administration of justice. Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) notes the important market and court sessions in the town:

Courts leet and baron are held by the seneschal of the manor, and petty sessions for the district are held every Friday.

Over the centuries, as with any market town, court and market days brought significant life and business to the town. The market days are mostly a thing of the past, but Newcastle West District Court still sits regularly and incorporates the old sittings of the Adare, Rathkeale and Askeaton courts.

Aside from monetary concerns, moving the court would have a psychological impact, stripping the town of an important official function. The town would be somewhat diminished as a result. And while 36 kilometres might not seem a tremendous distance, there is no direct means of public transport from the Newcastle West area to Kilmallock.

PS. Incidentally, last year the High Court rejected a challenge taken by solicitors in the New Ross area against the temporary relocation of that town’s court sittings to Ardcavan. The challenge was on public interest grounds and on the basis that the move threatened the applicant’s right to earn a living. The case is interesting because it related to temporary arrangements in the case of an “urgent need” or where the courthouse involved becomes “unsafe or otherwise unusable”. This is not the case with Newcastle West District Court.

Attention “country bumpkins”: Labour wants your vote!

Labour has never really had a presence in this part of Limerick West (soon to be North Kerry-West Limerick). However, the combination of Eamon Gilmore’s popularity and the party’s success in the opinion polls has put all constituencies in play and the party recently had a large billboard on the main road through Newcastle West seeking members.

In that context, I was interested to read the views of Labour’s Cllr Gerry “Ginger” McLoughlin on my neck of the woods.

These country bumpkins have no regard for Limerick. They have destroyed the city with the planning, and are no friends of ours. We are not here to serve Newcastle West, or other places in the a******e of county Limerick. I am a city man – I don’t go down there, and have no time for them.

 

From the National Library of Ireland
Newcastle West around the 1900s. Or, for the Labour party, yesterday.

 

Joking aside, these are pretty unacceptable comments for an elected representative to make about the county surrounding his constituency.

In addition, the planning issues he mentions could only realistically be tackled by the measures proposed by the Brosnan proposals, which McLoughlin and his urbane colleagues are now opposing with such charming arguments as that quoted above.

Update: Labour are unrepentant and Jan O’Sullivan has backed Mr. McLoughlin’s “colourful” comments.

Going to the District Court

Going to court is rarely pleasant. Even if you’re attending for a good reason, such as naturalisation or obtaining a licence, the courtroom retains the atmosphere of a place of justice, where issues of guilt are decided and penalties handed down.

If you are unfortunate enough to be summoned to court (see here for the difference between a summons and a charge sheet), there is a lot of good information available online.

  • The Courts Service has published useful general information on the courts system and on going to court. There is a separate publication and video for young witnesses.
  • The Director of Public Prosecutions has published a guide to attending court as a witness. The DPP’s guidelines for prosecutors also provide background information to the nature of criminal prosecutions in Ireland.
  • The Citizens Information website is an excellent resource with a range of information about the courts system and about particular offences and penalties.
  • The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has published a very useful guide to your rights in the context of the criminal justice system and garda powers.

For the ordinary citizen, the District Court is that which they are most likely to encounter. It generally deals with what can be considered to be less serious crimes and for civil cases with a value of up to €6,348.69. To take two common examples: one might have to attend the District Court for an alleged road traffic offence or in relation to a relatively small contractual dispute. (The Small Claims Court is, in fact, part of the District Court.)

The District Court also deals with certain family law matters, such as maintenance, domestic violence, guardianship, custody and access. The Court has a role in debt collection matters, as a judgment obtained in any court can be enforced in a District Court.

Newcastle West District Court
Newcastle West District Court

If charged with a crime at the upper end of the District Court’s jurisdiction, you are likely to have consulted a solicitor. This will usually involve a potential prison sentence and if a solicitor is not on record the District Judge will recommend that a solicitor be engaged. The Judge might invite the accused person to talk to one of the solicitors already in court. Legal aid may be applied for depending on the accused’s circumstances.

But what of less serious charges, like those arising from unpaid fixed charge notices or for non-display of tax or NCT discs? Is a solicitor required for a court appearance? The short answer is: no.

However:

  1. If you are not prepared to represent yourself in court you may wish to engage a solicitor. If you represent yourself, you might not have to do much talking but the courtroom can be a busy and intimidating place. Many people prefer to outsource the appearance to a solicitor. Engaging a solicitor does not guarantee you won’t have to speak: a judge can always ask you questions or swear you in to give evidence.
  2. If you are unsure as to your guilt or innocence, how to plead, whether the gardaí have complied with applicable requirements or whether your rights have been affected, you should discuss this with a solicitor. If wish to plead not guilty you can still appear in person and do it yourself.

Often, the main reason for engaging a solicitor is that a solicitor working in the district will be familiar with the practices and procedures of the local court and District Judge. (S)he will be able to advise on all aspects of court hearings in that District and how to prepare for an appearance. (S)he will also be able to provide guidance in relation to what penalties might be expected if found guilty.

Depending on the charge, previous record and the practice of the District Judge, it might not be necessary to attend court on the day if a solicitor is on record. If there is a valid reason why you cannot be in court on the day your charge(s) is to be tried, your solicitor can attend and seek an adjournment to a later date.

Engaging a solicitor is not a silver bullet and it is never possible to guarantee a particular outcome. Nevertheless, given that most people are unfamiliar with the courts system, there is a benefit in getting help from someone who appears in court on a regular basis.