Monday, June 2, 2008

Ciaran Tobin in the Post

Reprint, Sunday Business Post, 2008/03/16

Irishman who ran down children ‘did not flee’ Hungary
Sunday, March 16, 2008 - By Kieron Wood

A senior life insurance manager who ran down and killed two children in Budapest cannot be extradited because he did not ‘flee’ from Hungary, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Ciaran Tobin, an accountant with an address at Cairn Manor, Ratoath, Co Meath, was working with Irish Life in Budapest in April 2000 when his car mounted a footpath and hit Marton Zoltai and his sister Petra, aged 5 and 2, killing both children. The three passengers in the car included Tobin’s wife.

In August 2000,Tobin, a 43-year-old father of two, asked the Hungarian authorities for permission to return to Ireland with his family. He said his wife had been asked to be a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding and he wanted his elderly parents to meet his children, as they could not easily travel to Hungary.

Tobin returned to Hungary in October 2000, but left the country permanently the following month, when his job there finished. Criminal proceedings began in Hungary in September 2000 and Tobin was charged with negligently causing a fatal traffic accident.

He wrote to the Hungarian authorities saying he accepted the seriousness of what had happened and was "committed to the process of bringing a resolution to this tragedy", but he did not attend his trial in May 2002. He was convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, fined and banned from driving.

In October 2005,Pest county court in Budapest issued a European arrest warrant seeking Tobin’s extradition to serve the sentence. However, in the High Court in January 2007, Mr Justice Michael Peart refused the extradition application. He said Tobin’s departure from Hungary could not be defined as ‘‘fleeing’’ under the terms of the 2003 European Arrest Warrant Act.

Peart said: "The fleeing must occur following the imposition of sentence, and not, as in this case, where the respondent left before his trial.

In my view, the plain and ordinary meaning of ‘fled’ cannot be regarded as the same as the plain and ordinary meaning of ‘left’. The former has within it an intention to escape from or to evade something, such as, in this case, justice." The Minister for Justice appealed against the decision.

Counsel for the minister said the word "flee" was capable of a number of different meanings and did not exclude a person who left a country in the way in which Tobin left Hungary. It could apply to a person who left or went away from the member state which issued the warrant, thus evading the sentence imposed on him.

On February 25, the Supreme Court gave its reasons for rejecting the appeal. Mr Justice Fennelly, on behalf of the five-judge court, said that Tobin had left Hungary "lawfully and regularly", and that his trial had gone ahead in his "voluntary and duly authorised absence".

"It should be said that the judgment of the Hungarian court, insofar as it is available, is detailed and meticulous,” said Fennelly. But he said the Irish courts were not required to set aside or rewrite national laws in order to conform to the 2002 Council Framework decision on the European arrest warrant.

If the Supreme Court were to order the extradition of Tobin, it would have to be satisfied that he fell within the provisions of the Irish legislation.

"I am satisfied that he did not flee. If the court were to hold otherwise, itwould be acting contrary to the clear meaning of the act of 2003,” said Fennelly.’ ‘It follows that his surrender cannot be ordered. For these reasons, the appeal should be dismissed."

(c) Sunday Business Post

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