Fri, 27 Aug, 2021 – 17:45
Emmanuel Macron went home to France empty-handed on Thursday. You might be forgiven for thinking that some of his compatriots were hoping that he would return with Ian Bailey in shackles, perhaps trussed up in a closet at the back of the presidential plane.
The French, it would appear, are perplexed that Ireland has not handed over Bailey following his conviction by a Paris court in 2019 of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
During his visit to Dublin on Thursday, Mr Macron was asked about the case of the Frenchwoman who was brutally murdered in West Cork in 1996. The French president referred to the guilty verdict handed down in absentia by the Paris court, which sentenced Bailey to 25 years in prison.
“Should the person condemned agree to come to France, a new trial could be organised but so far, he has been refusing to do so,” President Macron told the media in Dublin.
That comment alone should have set alarm bells ringing for anybody with even a passing interest in liberté, égalité, fraternité.
A court convicted Bailey of murder and handed down a long prison sentence. Now, the president of that country is endorsing the official position that if Bailey shows up, another trial could be organised. For what purpose? What standing would it have? And what would that say about the 2019 trial?
Perhaps that it wasn’t really a trial at all but just a tool to be used in pressurising the Irish to hand him over. If a person can be convicted of murder on such a flimsy basis, what does that say about the criminal justice system in France?
And then, let’s say, against all the odds, a second trial finds Bailey not guilty. Would there then be a best of three?
The president was asked about the attempt to have Bailey extradited. He replied that following the (Irish) High Court’s refusal to hand over Bailey “the French court is now considering what to do next, and is leaving a window, a period of time for the Irish and French courts to discuss, to decide what to do next”.
Macron appears to be suggesting that senior Irish judges are conferring with their French counterparts over how to get around the law that has already been laid down by the same senior Irish judges. That would be alarming if there were any truth in it.
Repeatedly, the independent prosecutor in this country, the DPP, has ruled there is insufficient evidence to even bring charges against Bailey, who denies any involvement in the murder.
Three times the independent judiciary in this country has determined that Bailey must not be handed over to the French.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that Bailey was not to be extradited on foot of a European Arrest Warrant. That view was endorsed by the High Court after a second French application in 2017.
Then, in 2020, following Bailey’s conviction in Paris the previous year, the High Court once more refused to hand him over. Notably, on the last two occasions, including in the wake of the Paris conviction, the Government, acting on behalf of the French, didn’t appeal the High Court’s decision.
The obvious conclusion from the 2020 High Court decision is that the Irish courts do not recognise the conviction in Paris.
The obvious conclusion from the failure of the Government to appeal that decision is that it accepts the court’s view on the trial. One EU country refusing to accept such a serious legal outcome in a fellow EU state’s courts sounds controversial.
Throw in that the countries are long-time friends and both have enjoyed stable, liberal democracy for at least a century and the stakes are cranked up even higher.
The Irish courts are perfectly correct in their view, in the opinion of this reporter, who attended the Paris trial. To put it at its most neutral, what transpired in the courtroom fell well below the standards of what might be expected in a long-established democracy.
Sending Bailey to France on foot of that conviction would have represented a major abrogation of any fidelity to basic rights.
Macron and his compatriots are obviously unhappy with the situation as it prevails. Should they pursue it, the next step might be to bring Ireland to the European Court of Justice for failure to recognise the murder conviction.
That would involve this country effectively defending its legal system, which deemed that Bailey had no case to answer. In effect, the State would end up championing the cause of Ian Bailey.
Just one more twist in a bizarre but ultimately tragic story that has persisted for nearly 25 years now.
Macron appears to be suggesting that senior Irish judges are conferring with their French counterparts over how to get around the law that has already been laid down by the same senior Irish judges.