Jamie Bryson must prove he didn’t know flag protests were unlawful

Jamie Bryson is is charged with taking part in four un-notified public processions
Jamie Bryson is is charged with taking part in four un-notified public processions

High-profile Union Flag protestor Jamie Bryson must prove he was unaware a series of demonstrations were unlawful, a judge has ruled.

The 24-year-old is charged with taking part in four un-notified public processions at the height of the dispute in Belfast during January and February 2013.

Mass protests were being staged at the time over the decision to restrict the flying of the Union Flag at City Hall.

Bryson’s bid to clear his name has been on hold due to a preliminary legal dispute over the standards of proof required in the case.

A contested hearing was adjourned last October at Belfast Magistrates’ Court amid conflicting opinions on the legislation being used to prosecute him.

The Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 includes a defence to the charge if the accused did not know or suspect the event was un-notified.

Lawyers for Bryson, from Rosepark in Donaghadee, Co Down, argued that he only has to raise the issue of ignorance.

They contended that the burden then switches to the prosecution to establish he knew the demonstrations breached the legislation.

But District Judge Fiona Bagnall instead ruled on Monday that Bryson must prove, on the balance of probabilities, that he was unaware.

He has the opportunity to exonerate himself by showing he did not know or suspect the processions were unlawful, she held.

Judge Bagnall also stressed how the legislative provisions have great importance in helping to minimise opportunities for public disorder in Northern Irish society.

Having reached her decision on the preliminary point, the contest is now listed for next month.

Bryson, who was in court with two friends, remains on bail until the trial takes place.

Defence counsel Richard McConkey also asked for the case to be mentioned again in a week’s time.

He said: “This is an important decision and I will have to take instructions in respect of it.”