'abuse of process' Judge urges review after claims Robbie Lawlor murder accused had legal discussions 'monitored'
Adrian Holland, 38 and Patrick Teer, 46,mounted renewed bids to be released from custody
A proper review is needed into allegations of eavesdropping on confidential legal consultations with one of the men in custody accused of murdering Irish crime boss Robbie Lawlor, a judge has declared.
District Judge George Conner urged the Department of Justice and prison authorities to take steps aimed at restoring confidence among defence lawyers that discussions with their clients held at HMP Maghaberry will not be subjected to covert monitoring.
The call came as he refused bail to both of those charged with the murder of Lawlor in north Belfast on April 4, 2020.
Adrian Holland, 38 and Patrick Teer, 46, mounted renewed bids to be released from custody amid outrage from their legal representatives at the alleged listening in to privileged consultations.
Holland, of Etna Drive in Belfast, has been targeted in two separate incidents last month involving a Zoom meeting and a telephone conference, it was claimed.
His barrister, Joe Brolly, told the city’s Magistrates Court the situation has been raised with the Bar Council of Northern Ireland.
An application is also to be made to have the prosecutions halted as an abuse of process.
“As things stand it is impossible for his to receive a fair trial because we have reached the conclusion in light of these events that we cannot consult with him securely while he is in Maghaberry Prison,” Mr Brolly argued.
“It is an extremely distressing development, it goes right to the heart of the administration of justice.”
Lawyers for Teer, of Thornberry Hill in Belfast, claimed that after the eavesdropping allegations were first published prison staff approached him with a warning to “pick your battles”.
Barrister Sean Devine submitted: “It’s utterly surreal. The phrase Kafkaesque simply doesn’t do this situation justice.”
Lawlor, 36, was shot dead by a gunman who emerged from a house at Etna Drive in the Ardoyne district and opened fire.
The killing of the gangland figure has been linked to a drugs feud between rival crime factions across Ireland and beyond.
Neither Holland nor Teer, are suspected of carrying out the shooting.
Instead, they have been charged as part of a joint enterprise with others.
Denying bail to both men, Mr Conner acknowledged correspondence from the Department of Justice that consultations will not be “compromised” by the prison authorities.
But he described the allegations as very concerning and stressed the need to ensure complete confidentiality around legal consultations.
“It would seem to be that any abrogation of that privilege should only take place when authorised at a very high level, preferably within the judiciary,” the judge said.
“There needs to be a proper review of these allegations, because if confidence is not restored then one can easily envisage a situation where no lawyers will be prepared to consult with their clients in prison.”
Leaving the door open for possible further bail applications in future, he added: “It may be that a failure by the Prison Service and the Department of Justice to give sufficient assurance to the court that within the terms of the prison rules proper provision is being made for private consultation… might tilt the balance in the opposite direction.”
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