Seventeen men accused of staging an unlawful protest during a Loyal Order march in north Belfast were simply there to watch, a court heard yesterday.
Lawyers for the defendants rejected claims that their actions amounted to a breach of public processions legislation.
They appeared before Belfast Magistrates Court accused of taking part in an unnotified protest at the Ardoyne shops as an Apprentice Boys parade passed on December 1, 2012.
Even though no placards or signs were on display, a prosecution lawyer contended that by lining up and facing the road they were staging a form of demonstration.
Only members of the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA) had notified the Parades Commission of its plans to stage a protest in the area.
But it was submitted that the defendants acted separately on the day.
It was alleged that some of them were recognised by police as having previously been at the scene with a separate organisation: the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC).
John O’Neill, prosecuting, argued: “The prosecution case is this is a silent protest, a peaceful protest, but a protest nonetheless.”
He said police who tried to speak to the defendants had little success, with some claiming they were waiting for a bus and then dispersing once the Apprentice Boys had passed.
“A bus pulls up after the parade and then drives off and the prosecution suggest nobody from the GARC group boards that bus,” Mr O’Neill added.
Appearing in court on a summons were: Paul Carson, 49, and Aiden Ferguson, 33, both of Highbury Gardens; Damien Fennell, 31, of Duneden Park; Gerard Lagan, 52, of Butler Walk; Peter Lagan, 53, from Jamaica Street; Daniel Lundy, 32, of Russell Place; Joseph Montgomery, 19, and Joseph Jude Montgomery, 45, both of Rosehead; Kevin Clarke, 34, of Saunderson Court; and James Osborne, 20, of Prospect Park – all in Belfast.
Alongside them were: Kevin Collins, 35, Church Fields; Daniel Doherty, 21, and John Doherty, 28, both of Bamford Park; Sean Hanna, 50 and Brendan Kelly, 21, both of Carnfinton Park – all in Rasharkin, Co Antrim – and Anthony Lee, 38, and Micheal McLaughlan, 52, both of Fisherwick Crescent, Ballymena.
Video footage of the incident was played in court before defence lawyers tried to have the case thrown out, claiming there was no prospect of convictions.
Barrister Conor O’Kane argued that there was no evidence of any protest or expression of any views by the defendants.
“What they are doing is looking out and facing the parade,” he said.
“My clients are perfectly entitled to observe what’s going on.”
But District Judge George Conner refused to dismiss the case at that stage.
All 17 defendants then declined to give any evidence in the hearing, with the prosecution arguing that the judge should consider why they decided to remain silent.
Mr Conner reserved his verdict until next week, when all of the accused will return to court.