Irish judge shot in face in courthouse

A judge in the Republic of Ireland was accidentally shot in the face by a solicitor who was trying to demonstrate that an air pistol was harmless.

Judge John Neilan was hearing a family law case in Longford District Court when he was shot, it emerged yesterday.

The judge, who is never lost for words, didn't want to comment on the matter yesterday.

Ironically, the lawyer was trying to demonstrate to Judge John Neilan that the weapon was not dangerous when it accidentally discharged and fired a pellet in his direction.

It happened during a family law hearing in Longford District Court on Tuesday.

The judge was not seriously injured in the incident and it is understood that he continued hearing the case and proceedings went ahead as normal.

Yesterday, the judge had no marks on his face as he presided over Mullingar District Court in Co Westmeath.

When asked about the matter before he entered the court house yesterday afternoon, the judge said: "I don't want to make a comment."

Gardai said there were "absolutely no records" of the incident.

There were only a handful of witnesses when the judge was accidentally shot as all family law matters are held in camera.

In cases like this, restrictions are in place as to who can attend the court as they involve sensitive domestic issues.

No media or gardai were present for the case on Tuesday.

Normally, in criminal cases, an exhibits officer is appointed by gardai to present evidence in the courtroom.

However, on this occasion, the matter was a civil one and it would be the responsibility of the solicitor in court to ensure the evidence was secure.

Judge Neilan has never been far from the limelight over the years. He questioned the "obscene" salaries of top bankers and attacked the sector for losing the run of themselves in July.

The outspoken judge lambasted the banks for handing out money "in fistfuls" during the boom. He also said the people who ran the sector had less common sense than a "dog in the street".

And last year, he caused uproar when he branded Court Service staff as "lazy" and "totally incompetent" after they complained about working after 5pm.

He said he was "sick and tired and fed up" with the Court Service from the top down. He described the system as a "shambles" and said those involved were "totally incompetent" as far as he was concerned.

Last December, ahead of changes to the district in which he presides, the judge apologised to "anyone and everybody" he may have "wittingly or unwittingly offended".

He has also had words with high-ranking gardai in his courtroom.

The judge threatened to jail a senior garda inspector for one week on June 2, 2008, after he accused him of "laughing" in court.

He claimed he saw Inspector Paul Cuttle laughing after he branded a remand hearing for a man charged with murder as a "PR exercise" when gardai failed to produce a book of evidence.

In 2004, he declared he would immediately jail for one week all those guilty of drink driving while considering a sufficient penalty.

After former Justice Minister Michael McDowell pointed out the constitutional right to bail, the judge said he was withdrawing from hearing drink-driving cases for six months. Work at the judge's court resumed but he continued to have a tense relationship with Mr McDowell.

When asked if he would join the then minister in opening the newly refurbished Longford courthouse, he said: "I wouldn't share the platform with him if he was opening the gates of heaven."

* Source: The Irish Independent

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