Judge to consider rape trial reporting bans

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson speaking outside Belfast Crown Court after he was found not guilty of raping a woman at a property in south Belfast in June 2016. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 28, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Rugby. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson speaking outside Belfast Crown Court after he was found not guilty of raping a woman at a property in south Belfast in June 2016. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 28, 2018. See PA story ULSTER Rugby. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A legal challenge to overturn reporting restrictions on the rape trial of two Ireland rugby internationals will go before a judge next week.

Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, has said legal arguments should be put before trial Judge Patricia Smyth on April 9.

Sir Declan, who was sitting as a Crown Court judge, told a preliminary hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday: “I direct that this matter be placed before Her Honour Judge Smyth at 1pm on Monday.”

A number of media outlets are challenging reporting restrictions still in place on the case.

Restrictions preventing reporting on legal exchanges that take place in the absence of a jury usually fall away once a trial is over, as the issue of prejudicing jurors is no longer relevant.

A number of outlets that covered the marathon trial are now seeking to get continuing restrictions, imposed by Judge Smyth, lifted.

The issue had been listed for a mention hearing on April 25, but lawyers for press and broadcasters are endeavouring to have the matter dealt with expeditiously.

Gerry Simpson QC, representing the media, said that news is of a “perishable quality”. He told a brief hearing: “It is now a week since the trial ended and it will be another week until things are clarified.”

Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson, 26, and Stuart Olding, 25, were unanimously acquitted of rape by a jury which deliberated for three hours and 45 minutes after a nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

Jackson was also acquitted of sexual assault.

Two other men – Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison – were found not guilty of lesser charges connected with the alleged incident in June 2016.

Frank O’Donoghue QC, who represented Olding, said there was a “general concern” that the not-guilty verdicts could be undermined.

The lawyer said: “On occasion it (the reporting) has been anything but respectful of the verdict.”