Judge to rule on ongoing reporting restrictions
The Crown Court judge who presided over the recent rape trial of two Ulster and Ireland rugby players in Belfast will hear legal arguments later this week to determine whether or not reporting restrictions can be lifted.
Following a mammoth trial spanning over nine weeks, teammates Paddy Jackson (26) and Stuart Olding (25) were unanimously acquitted by a jury of raping the same woman in a bedroom at Jackson's south Belfast home in June 2016.
Mr Jackson was also cleared of a further charge of sexual assault.
At the start of the trial Judge Patricia Smyth imposed a restriction banning the media from reporting on anything said in the absence of the jury.
It is normal practice that any reporting restrictions imposed during a trial are lifted after it ends, as the jury can no longer be influenced. However, the restrictions in this case remain in place.
An application was subsequently launched by several media outlets at the conclusion of the trial in a bid to have the reporting restrictions lifted, and was due to be heard on April 25.
However, those outlets taking the application have expressed a desire to have the application dealt with sooner than the end of the month.
The application was listed in front of Judge Smyth earlier yesterday, when a barrister representing the media outlets claimed there was no basis for reporting restrictions to remain in place.
Gerry Simpson QC said: "This is a matter which we say should be dealt with very quickly."
Stephen Toll, who represented Mr Jackson during the trial, also spoke during the brief hearing, and said: "I do not think we have proper focus on the issues because the media are refusing to say what applications they are wanting to rule on.
"They can stand on their rights and that is their prerogative.
"We may have a concern about the Convention rights (human rights) of the defendants and other persons that may be affected."
This prompted Mr Simpson to tell the court: "The media are not refusing to do anything.
"I have no idea because I do not intend to ask the media. That's the wrong question to ask."
The right question, the barrister suggested, was to ask if there was a lawful basis for the restrictions remaining in place.
Agreeing this was the "correct question" that needed to be addressed, Judge Smyth said she would listen to the legal arguments tomorrow afternoon.
Two other men - Blane McIlroy (26) and Rory Harrison (25) - were also found not guilty of lesser charges connected to the alleged incident in June 2016.