A statement by former Minister of State Lucinda Creighton about Lisa Smith's bid to have ISIS membership charges against her dismissed was "a blatant contempt of court", her defence lawyers have told the Special Criminal Court.
Defence counsel Michael O'Higgins SC, for Ms Smith, raised his concerns today about a statement released last week, in which former Minister of State for European Affairs Ms Creighton said the application made by the accused's lawyers was "deeply concerning" and it was "imperative" that the courts push ahead with the trial.
Ms Smith (39), from Dundalk, Co Louth is charged with an offence contrary to the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 for being a member of unlawful terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS) between October 28, 2015 and December 1, 2019. She is also charged under the same legislation for financing terrorism by sending €800 in assistance, via a Western Union money transfer, to a named man on May 6, 2015.
The court heard that a statement had been released last week through a public relations firm in response to Ms Smith's pre-trial application for the dismissal of the charges against her.
Ms Creighton said in the press release that efforts by Ms Smith to have ISIS-related terrorist charges against her dropped posed a "significant threat to European security", the court heard.
Ms Creighton, who is described in the statement as an advisor to the "Counter Extremism Project" (CEP), sets out that she was "deeply concerned" at the legal application made by Ms Smith's lawyers and said it was "imperative" that the courts push ahead with the trial.
Mr O'Higgins today read the first paragraph from Ms Creighton's statement to the three-judge court, which said: “The news that Lisa Smith is making a last-ditch attempt to have the terrorist charges against her dropped is deeply concerning for two reasons. Firstly, were Smith to avoid facing trial it would undermine the continent-wide cause of foreign fighter repatriation, by casting doubt on the capacity of European courts to prosecute ISIS returnees in a safe and reliable manner".
Addressing the court, the barrister submitted that this statement was "very detrimental" to his client.
Counsel continued to read the second paragraph from the statement to the court, where the former Minister for European Affairs said: "CEP experts have written at length about the dangerous conditions in which European ISIS members and their innocent children are currently being held. Detainee camps such as Al-Hol in Syria are hotbeds of ideological extremism which pose a significant threat to European security. While repatriating and prosecuting foreign fighters, so that they can be held in isolation from other extremists, is the only viable means of eliminating these camps, all across Europe governments have proven reluctant to do so due to the legal and political complexities involved in the process. If the Irish legal system fails even to bring such a high profile case to trial, the negligence of these governments in their duty of care for their citizens’ safety will be vindicated".
Mr O'Higgins called the statement by Ms Creighton "a blatant contempt of court" and said it was an attempt to interfere with the course of justice. He asked Mr Sean Gillane SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) what steps, if any, did the DPP intend to take.
Mr O'Higgins said the defence had a significant concern that this case was coming before the three-judge court with a perception which was not justified. "We are anxious to ensure our client gets a fair trial and is dealt with in a manner which is appropriate and fitting with the case that is being brought," he added.
In reply, Mr Gillane said he would take instructions from the DPP and report back to the non-jury court.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt said he was unsure what application was being made but the court had no view to offer on the matter. The Special Criminal Court, he said, did not have a jury and therefore the court was "completely impervious" to the material put forward by Mr O'Higgins. He said the three judges would await the response from the DPP.
Mr O'Higgins also today made an application on behalf of Ms Smith under Section 4E of the Criminal Justice Act 1999, which states that a court can dismiss the charges against an accused person where there is insufficient evidence.
Any evidence heard during the application cannot be published or broadcast.
The three-judge heard submissions from both Mr O'Higgins and Mr Gillane on the accused's application. Mr Gillane will continue his submissions tomorrow morning.
Mr Justice Hunt, presiding, sitting with Judge Gerard Griffin and Judge Cormac Dunne will rule on the application once both sides have completed their submissions.
Ms Smith, who appeared in court today dressed in a full-length grey coat and a full face covering, was remanded on continuing bail until tomorrow.
If the trial goes ahead, it is expected to last 12 weeks.
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