Former journalist Ian Bailey has spoken of his “relief” after the Supreme Court ruled he could not be extradited to France, where he would face up to 25 years in prison for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
The family of the slain filmmaker said it was bitterly disappointed and called on the State to appeal the decision.
It was the third time that French authorities had requested the extradition of an Englishman for the murder of Ms Du Plantier, 39, outside her holiday home near Schull, Co Cork, on 23 December 1996.
The latest request came after Mr Bailey, 63, was tried and convicted by a Paris court last year after a trial he called “a farce” and did not attend. He has claimed that vicious attempts have been made to prepare him for assassination.
“I have been fighting for justice for almost 24 years. People tend to forget it,” he told the Irish Independent after yesterday’s ruling by Mr Justice Paul Burns.
“There was a newspaper headline at the weekend that said the French family was fighting for justice. But I also fought for justice. I am an innocent person caught up in this nightmare. This has been an endless nightmare for me.”
In a 61-page decision, Mr Justice Burns revealed that a recent change in the law on extraterritorial jurisdiction – which would allow both Irish nationals and people who normally reside here to be prosecuted in Ireland for a offense committed abroad – had not created a situation allowing Mr Bailey to be extradited.
The judge said there was still a lack of reciprocity between Irish and French law.
While France bases its right to prosecute on the nationality of the victim, Ireland bases it on the nationality of the suspected perpetrator.
The judge said that Article 44 of the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 states that a person will not be extradited if the offense specified in the warrant is committed in another country by the issuing State. This precluded Mr Bailey’s surrender.
Mr Justice Burns also said Mr Bailey had an accrued or granted right not to surrender under previous court rulings refusing his surrender, and he had not been stripped of that by any new law .
He delayed making official orders for two weeks, to give both parties time to consider his decision. It is unclear whether the Minister of Justice, who initiated the proceedings following a request from the French authorities, will file an appeal.
Last year’s trial took place under French law allowing authorities there to investigate and prosecute the murders of French nationals abroad.
The Paris court relied heavily on evidence gathered by the guard, although the Director of Public Prosecutions in Ireland concluded in 2001 that this material did not support the conduct of a prosecution.
Mrs. Du Plantier, a mother of one child, was beaten to death in the alley leading to her secluded holiday home after she apparently tried to escape from an intruder.
Mr Bailey, a Manchester-born man who has lived in Ireland since 1991, has strongly protested his innocence. He reported the murder to a number of newspapers, but later became the main suspect. Although he was arrested and questioned twice, he was never charged.
“It’s like being caught in a storm,” Mr Bailey said.
He believes there are people who know he is innocent but have remained silent as he has undergone various court proceedings.
“It is not easy when there are some devils out there who are determined to see me staring. It has been an absolute torture,” he said.
Alain Spilliaert, a lawyer for Ms Du Plantier’s family, said they were now waiting for the Government to appeal to the Supreme Court. “We hope the Irish ministry will convince the judge to authorize an appeal as it is a matter of public interest,” he said.
A family source said they were very upset by the decision. “It is a very disappointing day. The family has believed in the Irish judicial system but has not received justice,” the source said.
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