Casino wins action over district judge’s refusal to recuse themselves from hearing case

Four CourtsA casino has won its challenge aimed at preventing a District Court judge from hearing its prosecution for allegedly selling alcoholic beverages without a liquor licence.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan said Midnight Entertainment Ltd Limited, which runs a casino in Galway, was entitled to an order quashing Judge Mary Fahy’s decision not to recuse herself from hearing a prosecution brought against the casino.

The company, which operates the 4 Aces Club on Galway’s Dominick Street, is charged with selling certain intoxicating liquor without being duly licensed to do so on 28 November 2015 contrary to section 7 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1924.

It denies any wrongdoing and intends to fully defend the prosecution. It says it is a private members’ club and does not require a liquor licence.

The company claimed that Judge Fahy, who had been due to hear the prosecution before Galway District Court, had made remarks in a previous, similar court case against a director of the company in 2015.

On that occasion, Judge Fahy found the director guilty, imposed a six month suspended prison sentence on him and remarked that if the premises was a “genuine casino” it “must” have a liquor licence.

When the second prosecution came before the District Court in January 2017, the company asked Judge Fahy to recuse herself from hearing the case, which she refused to do.

The casino operators claimed the remarks made by the judge when the director was charged give rise to a reasonable apprehension that the company would not receive a fair hearing from an impartial judge.

Judge Fahy should have recused herself from hearing the case before the District Court, the company also claimed.

As a result, it sought an order quashing the judge’s decision not to recuse herself from hearing the case and declarations including that the judge acted outside of her jurisdiction, unreasonably and irrationally by not recusing herself from hearing the application.

The Director of Public Prosecutions opposed the application.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Meenan said that, in making his decision, he was mindful that district judges bear an extremely heavy workload and it is often the case that the same persons appear before them on a regular basis.

While it did not follow that the district judges are obliged to remove themselves when this happens, in this particular case, the charges were the same with the only difference being that on the first occasion the charges were brought against a company director whereas on the second occasion the same charges were brought against the company itself.

In the circumstances, the judge said the company is entitled to the relief sought.

Aodhan O’Faolain, Ireland International News Agency Ltd.

Tags: Court report

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