Dáil Éireann - Volume 609 - 02 November, 2005
Adjournment Debate. - Criminal Prosecutions.
Ms McManus Ms McManus
Ms McManus: On 22 May 2003, a young woman, Georgina Eager, was brutally murdered in Dublin. Her family was devastated by the loss of a lovely and gentle daughter and sister. Their anguish was compounded by an ordeal resulting from a decision by the Irish authorities to let the case be heard in a British court. For the first time, a person accused of such a crime committed in Ireland did not have his extradition sought by the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions to stand trial here. It was an unprecedented and, for the family, inexplicable decision.
 To this day, they have received no clear explanation why the decision was made. I raised this matter by way of a parliamentary question and got no explanation either. The family was eventually advised to contact the DPP’s office. When they did so, their calls were not returned. Finally, an approach was made by the family to the Garda Síochána and a letter issued from the DPP on 14 September. The DPP’s explanation is in direct conflict with the statement made to the family by the British police who expressed both frustration and puzzlement with the Irish authorities for failing to seek the extradition of the accused.
In January 2005, the accused began a fitness-to-plead challenge, which was heard in London. One family member attended court, but there was no Garda or legal presence representing the Irish State at that hearing. The DPP stated in his letter that he was satisfied with the efficient way in which the murder case had been handled by the Crown Prosecution Service and so did the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. However, how do they know to make that judgment when they received no legal advice? The DPP and the Minister would no doubt claim that the verdict proves that they were right, but that is disingenuous. If the next time a family is put in this position and the verdict goes against them, what will the Minister and DPP say?
The trial began on 8 August 2005 and the family travelled to London at its own expense and without support. It sought to have a legal representative of the Irish State present in the court, but that was denied. It sought assistance for help with the costs. That too was denied, in stark contrast to the decision by the Irish Government to send a legal representative to the inquest into the deaths of three Irish people in Gibraltar and to have diplomatic representation at the trial of the Columbia Three, together with the loan of money for bail. In the case of the Eager family, however, no support was provided. Any diplomatic presence in the court was a result of my independent representations. With the exception of help given by the Garda, it is shameful that members of an Irish family forced to depend on British justice found themselves effectively abandoned by their own State.
After intense lobbying we were informed that funds were available through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal Board. The circumstance of the trial, however, had no bearing on eligibility for this funding. Anyway the funds have run out so it will be next year before the family has a chance of getting anything.
It is bad enough for a family to have to travel abroad for a trial of this nature without consular or legal assistance from the State, but what marks this case was that the Irish authorities had an  option to hear the case in Ireland and chose not to. The family have three different accounts about why that choice was made, one from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, one from the DPP and one from the British police. Is it not time that they were told the truth?
Mr. Gallagher Mr. Gallagher
Mr. Gallagher: I thank Deputy McManus for raising this important issue and apologise for the absence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I express my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the late Georgina Eager on her tragic and untimely death. The facts that I have to outline, in answer to the assertions made by Deputy McManus, concerning the assistance provided by a number of State agencies are not meant to detract in any way from the loss suffered by them. Nothing could compensate for that.
Deputy McManus will be aware that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not have a role in providing assistance to the family of a victim of a crime in attending a trial abroad. There are, however, other supports available which were availed of by the family of Georgina Eager during the trial of Christopher Newman.
Christopher Newman was arrested in London having fled Ireland following the murder of Georgina Eager. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had no function or role in the decision to charge him here with her murder. The role of the Minister and his Department, in so far as they had any role, was confined to the provision of mutual legal assistance to the UK authorities. In this case a request for assistance was made by the British authorities. This request, which was complied with, consisted of interviews with certain witnesses, including the victim’s father, as well as the provision of other evidence. Without the provision of this assistance it is doubtful that Christopher Newman would have been found guilty of the murder of Georgina Eager.
Significant assistance was provided to the family by the Garda before and during the trial. From an early stage a Garda liaison officer was appointed and he was in regular contact with members of the family. The liaison garda also met the family each day during the trial. This was in addition to the assistance provided by the Garda with the arrangements for the attendance of witnesses at the trial, including family members who gave evidence.
The Irish Embassy in London provided all possible consular assistance to the Eager family members during the time they spent in London attending the trial. The Irish Ambassador, who met them during their stay in London, assigned a diplomatic officer to members of the Eager  family on the opening day of the trial on 8 August 2005, who assured them that she would be available to provide consular assistance throughout their stay in London. She ensured that they had her direct contact details and suggested that they could contact her at any time.
This officer attended the trial for the opening and closing weeks and approximately twice a week in the intervening period. She provided information and advice to family members on a number of issues of concern to them, including compensation available towards the financial costs of attending the trial in London. This was provided on advice from the Minister’s Department. She also liaised with the UK witness service victims support unit on their behalf to ensure that transport to and from the family’s hotel would be provided throughout the trial. She arranged for the typing of printed statements for the family, including the victim impact statement which was presented to the judge before sentencing.
Furthermore, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated that the financial burden suffered by the Eager family in attending the trial could be alleviated through the criminal injuries compensation scheme. This scheme, to which the family can apply, is administered by an independent tribunal. Its purpose is to compensate victims for expenses and losses borne as a result of personal injuries inflicted in a crime. The tribunal is entirely responsible for deciding whether compensation is payable in any particular case but if an applicant is unhappy with the initial decision of a single tribunal member, the case can then be appealed to a three-member oral hearing.
Under the scheme, the family of a person who has died as a result of a criminal injury is entitled to apply for actual loss of earnings or expenses that have arisen due to the person’s death as well as for funeral expenses. Although the scheme does not cover compensation for pain and suffering, a payment can be made in respect of mental distress for the immediate family members, as defined in the Civil Liability Acts. The total amount available under this heading is just over €25,000.
I understand that, with Deputy McManus’s assistance, the Eager family has applied to the tribunal for compensation. As is normal practice, the secretariat is endeavouring to assemble sufficient information so as to enable the tribunal make a properly informed determination on the case. For that reason, the secretariat is following up a number of queries with the family, again via Deputy McManus. Of necessity a certain amount of detail will be required to support the claim but the documentation sought is not particularly onerous or unusual. Expenditure incurred can generally be vouched using receipts or credit card  accounts, for example, while loss of earnings are normally certified by an employer. Details of expenses met from any other sources, such as the UK authorities in this instance, will also be followed up by the secretariat.
The tribunal secretariat will offer any assistance to the family or the Deputy in clarifying the requirements so as to enable the claim to be advanced as soon as possible. As soon as the necessary detail is assembled, the case will be  referred to a tribunal member for a decision. Depending on the complexity of the case and the other claims on hand, the processing time may take a number of months but I am sure that the tribunal will deal with the claim as quickly as possible in the circumstances.
I hope that what I have said will serve to put the record straight on the support provided to the family by the various State agencies.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 3 November 2005.
Dáil Éireann 609 Adjournment Debate. Criminal Prosecutions.