Sunday Life has won a landmark legal battle after a convicted criminal used legal aid to try to silence this newspaper and prevent reporting of her crimes.
Joanne Cassidy (44), from west Belfast, was convicted of money laundering alongside her drug dealer husband Jim Cassidy (44) and two others at Craigavon Crown Court earlier this year.
Following her conviction she was handed a two-year suspended jail term but took up a publicly funded legal action against Sunday Life in an attempt to anonymously gain a lifetime blanket ban on reporting of her crimes past, present or future.
During a short hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday the case for an injunction against this newspaper was thrown out by His Honour Judge McFarland, the Recorder of Belfast sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge.
Mrs Cassidy, in her application to the High Court, sought to prevent any further details of her criminality coming to light, including media coverage of future court appearances such as her upcoming confiscation hearing. However, after her legal team conceded the contest at the eleventh hour, the application for an interim injunction was dismissed.
This is thought to be the first time a convicted criminal, taking a case using public money via the legal aid system, has sought to gag the press from reporting on further public criminal proceedings using privacy laws.
Despite being soundly defeated Mrs Cassidy may still pursue a case for damages to a further hearing at the High Court, all of which would be lavishly funded by the taxpayer. It remains to be seen whether or not Mrs Cassidy and her legal team intend to take that step.
Fergal McGoldrick of Carson McDowell, who represented Sunday Life, says this case was vital to the freedom of the press in Northern Ireland.
He said: "This application represented a very serious attack on the freedom of the press and open justice, two core principles of our democracy. Thanks to the resolve of the Sunday Life team, and the considerable efforts of our Senior Counsel, Gerald Simpson QC, we were in a position to robustly contest it, and ultimately see the application off."
Martin Breen, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Sunday Life and Belfast Telegraph, questioned why it was funded by the taxpayer through legal aid. He said: "Sunday Life is a firm believer of the freedom of the press and will not bow to legal threats from criminals. It is a matter of considerable concern that at a time when public finances are under significant strain from Covid-19 the Legal Services Agency thought it appropriate to grant legal aid to a convicted criminal to ban reporting of public criminal proceedings."
Joanne Cassidy was convicted of money laundering after a 2018 raid by cops on her home revealed a scene described in court as akin to the Mafia movie Goodfellas. Packages of cocaine were found scattered around the living room floor of the Mount Eagles Grove property with Mrs Cassidy partying in the kitchen.
After confessing to coverting criminal property Mrs Cassidy, who thought nothing of spending thousands of pounds on handbags and holidays, was sentenced to two years jail suspended for three years in August. Jim Cassidy (above) was later jailed for 33 months for drug dealing, money laundering and converting criminal property.