A second judge has remarked on a decision by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) not to send the case of a youth worker accused of serious child sexual offences to crown court.
Caoimhin Morgan (28) from Dixon Court, Coalisland is accused of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, intentionally communicating with a child for sexual gratification as well as possessing and making an indecent image of a child.
Offending is alleged to have occurred on dates between February 1 and June 25, last year.
The case first appeared at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court earlier this year where a police officer confirmed the charges could be connected.
A number of adjournments followed and at the most recent sitting the case was listed for Morgan to indicate how he intends to plead.
However, last month District Judge Michael Ranaghan noted the case had been directed to remain in the lower court and expressed concern given the severity of the charges.
He said: “I may have an issue with this matter and if that is the case, all I can do is ask the prosecution to review their decision. However, I have no power of refusal if they decline to do so.”
Having taken time to consider the case further, he said: “This is a youth worker involved in alleged requests for sex from a child. I do not believe this court has sufficient powers to deal with charges on this level.”
He ordered the file to be sent back to the PPS for review and urged it to be elevated to crown court.
However, on return a prosecuting lawyer advised the file was reviewed and the decision to retain matters in the lower court stood.
Judge Ranaghan remarked: “In that case there is nothing I can do.”
A defence solicitor entered not guilty pleas to all charges on his client’s behalf and the case was adjourned to identify a contest date.
The most recent hearing a different judge was sitting who immediately picked up on the nature of charges.
Deputy District Judge Sean O’Hare remarked: “I take it the PPS know what they are doing keeping this case in the lower court.”
A defence barrister pointed out the issue had been raised previously at Judge Ranaghan’s request and the decision stood.
Judge O’Hare remanded Morgan on continuing bail to attend for a contested hearing – which is expected to last the best part of a day – on 16 October.
Meanwhile, the PPS was asked to explain why Judge Ranaghan’s very specific concerns appeared to be dismissed and on what basis the case was not deemed suitable for crown court?
Also was the review which reached the same decision conducted by the same directing officer and/or approved by a senior?
While failing to address some points, a spokesperson replied: “The mode of trial in this case was carefully considered in light of all available evidence and circumstances, in strict accordance with the PPS Code for Prosecutors. It was concluded that the Magistrates’ Court has sufficient sentencing powers to deal with this matter. At the request of the District Judge, jurisdiction was recently carefully reconsidered and it was again concluded that the Magistrates’ Court is the appropriate venue for this case.
The spokesperson ended the response: “As the case is before the court it would be inappropriate to comment further.”