Planning row couple's latest bid to save family home fails as judge dismisses claims of bias
Greyabbey husband and wife face tearing down house
A Co Down couple have failed in their latest bid to quash a planning breach conviction, after claiming that their human rights were violated by an "unfair hearing".
Roberta and William James Young were ordered to pay £150,000 in fines and faced the prospect of tearing down their Greyabbey home after a court ruling last month.
But in the latest stage of the ongoing dispute, the pair made a number of accusations against the court - including that they were never made aware of the case, which took place in their absence on June 30.
The couple, from Carrowdore Road in Greyabbey, failed to appear at Downpatrick Magistrate's Court again yesterday, saying they did not have "sufficient time" to prepare their arguments as they were not legally represented.
Mr Young made an attempt to have a second trial ordered after he accused District Judge Greg McCourt of "bias" in a letter read out in court yesterday.
But sitting Deputy District Judge Paul Conway told the court he would continue with the two applications made by the defendants based on Mr Young's letters. He said: "One application is to bring forward a fine default. This comes from a letter sent on July 2 by Mr Young saying that they requested a fine default. That application was then listed for hearing on July 14.
"I was sitting on that day. Neither defendant appeared and I adjourned it to this week and letters were sent out that the application would be today.
"But a letter received on July 18 from the Youngs said that they will not be appearing unless bench warrants are issued."
But Judge Conway dismissed the first application, as the time to pay the fines had not expired.
The trial last month heard that "as long ago as 2004" the couple had been served with an enforcement notice by the planning authorities as a result of a property built in breach of planning permission. They had been allowed to build a single-storey structure, but instead built an extra storey on top of that.
The court heard that since its inception in January 2004, the case "has been before the Magistrates Court, twice", all through the higher courts and "all the way to the Supreme Court", and that at each and every stage the courts had deemed "there is nothing wrong with the enforcement notice and that the law has been applied correctly".
Their second application was for their conviction and sentence to be set aside and the case to be heard before a different judge.
In a letter dated July 19, the defendants accused Judge McCourt and the Public Prosecution Service of "deliberate falsehoods".
"The letter included written submissions they would making today. It's very obvious that the defendants had ample opportunity to prepare for the hearing today," Judge Conway said.
"I will consider the submissions in their absence. There is also an interest of the public in relation to the Planning Service and council, that the dragging out of the applications and to the status of convictions is increasing public expenditure.
"They claimed that allegations made by the PPS for a single storey house was a deliberate falsehood. They also accused the court of failing to respond to a letter in which they made enquiries about legal aid."
The couple also said they did not find out about the June trial and subsequent fines until they read it in this newspaper.
But Judge Conway said the Courts Service had sent out a letter confirming the hearing would go ahead, 10 days before it took place. "The defendants say they did not get the letter, otherwise they would have replied asking for it not to go ahead," he added.
"Had they known, the defendants said, they would have objected to it and would have made an emergency application to the High Court to prevent it as they were seeking leave for a judicial review at the time."
The couple went on to say that the fines were "disproportionate" and Judge McCourt was "biased".
"They also say their human rights were denied as they could not have a fair and impartial hearing. But on a factual basis the judicial review application was not pending on June 30, so I do not believe that the judicial review is founded on correct facts," said Judge Conway. "It was not pending at the time of the last hearing so I would understand why Judge McCourt may have been reluctant to adjourn the hearing for the purpose of the judicial review."
The judge dismissed the second application, saying that Mr Young's factually incorrect accusations led to concerns whether he received the letter on June 20.
"I am of the opinion not to quash the conviction and have it heard before another judge and dismiss the application."