SOS – Our First Day in Court
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SOS – Our First Day in Court

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The SOS ex-parte application against An Bord Pleanala was being made on Monday 21st January within the eight week period of the decision of the board to uphold the Cork County Council Decision to Grant RTP Permission for the awful and shocking development on the Baltimore Road.

I ascertain from SOS lawyers that the business would be done in High Court 6 before Judge Seamus Noonan. This is not one of the “Four Courts” within the Dome area of the Four Courts building but rather a slightly less grandiose venue on the ground floor to the left hand side as you look at it from the River Liffey.

On arrival some minutes before the 10.30 start, there is a scrum of students and activists noisily trying to get into the court and a court usher in his finest Dublinese at the top of his voice admonishing all to “Ciúnas”. White headed and looking not to be a threat, I slip in ahead of the queue and behind his back to join the assembling standing crush at the back of the Court. Packed with the great and the good and the not so great and good. Hardly room to exhale and not a window open. Air conditioning? Forgeddaboudid!

Solicitors, Barristers, Court Registrars, a stenographer to listen to everything and type the spoken words into a machine for the purpose of an audio transcript. For the record. Or in case anyone wants to appeal. Excited chatter and enthusiastic anticipation of what was going to happen.

At 10.37 a cry of “all stand!” For his lordship. This older form of address is now gone and it’s merely “Judge”. And none of the barristers are wearing wigs. Another sign of change.

There is a list of cases which has been published on line at about 5pm the previous day and there is what is known as a call-over to establish the status and readiness of each case. “Are you ready to go on?” is a frequent question. As cases are called and dealt with, numbers in the court room dwindle and the crush eases.

This court was dealing with the very tough end of the Celtic Tiger period i.e. people being put out of their homes. Applications by banks and vulture funds for orders for possession and sale were being resisted by lay litigants not able to afford legal fees. Levels of anxiety and emotion were very high. Many cases were adjourned for technical reasons but principally because the formal aspects of the sale of loan books by banks to vulture funds had not been completed in time.

These cases took until about 11.30 to deal with. The court went into a short recess probably for the purposes of Judges and administrators communicating among themselves to see how the lists were going and the number of judges who might become free sooner than later to take cases which were ready to go to full hearing.

The Judicial Review cases were called when the Judge returned after about 10 minutes. All of the these cases would have had their papers lodged with the Central Office of the High Court the previous Friday but despite this short notice, the judge had read them and was fully au fait with the facts of each case. Four out of the five cases before the SOS case were applications against ABP. A barrister would “open” the case and start reading the Statement of Grounds and almost uniformly the Judge would interject after 5 to 7 minutes to confirm that he was satisfied from what he had heard and read that the particular cases should be admitted to Judicial Review and ordered certain formalities be observed.

The SOS case was called at about 12.40pm and the barrister followed the same procedure opening the Statement of grounds of Brendan McCarthy. After reading much of the statement and listening to the allegations of failure in process on the part of the Board, the Judge interjects and says “Yes. I am satisfied that a case has been made and I will admit to Judicial review” and orders the service of documents and other formalities.

The 12th of March is fixed as being the date the case will be listed again “For Mention”. Meaning that lawyers for An Bord Pleanála (as respondent), Cork County Council and RTP (as notice parties) will appear for the purpose of letting the Court know whether the case was going to be defended and fought or not.

So all the months and weeks and days and hours of effort and sweat on the part of so many all come down to one ten minutes and SUCCESS at the first hurdle.

Courts are like a theatre, a living portrayal of life itself, the human condition in conflict managed by a system and determined by law and the application of law. A great experience for the not so faint hearted and specifically any young person with an inkling of an idea that they would like to be part of this a career should come along on the 12th of March.

For anyone interested I’m at