Archive for February 4th, 2010

Special Offer: Two Heads For The Price Of One

Judge had ‘no idea’ he was head-shop landlord – National News, Frontpage –

Happy Daze, directly opposite Naas Courthouse, sells herbal cigarettes and various paraphernalia and other substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs.

A JUDGE known for showing no mercy to defendants on drug charges was apparently unaware he was the landlord of a so-called “head shop” that sells legal “highs”.


However, in a statement issued by the Courts Service yesterday, Judge Coughlan said he had “no idea” of the premises’ current use.

“It has been drawn to my attention that a premises I let to a commercial tenant, the site of my former legal practice, has been operated as a place of trade commonly referred to as a ‘head shop’,” he said.

My finger is so far off the pulse of what’s going down in our streets that I had no idea what a head shop was. If you asked me, prior to my reading this report, what I thought a ‘head shop’ was, I would have given a reply that both of us might have found embarrassing, and I would have been puzzled at such a vulgar question.

No matter: something is askew. If the judge had been leasing to an off-licence or a newsagents, both of which sell legal drugs with potentially deadly effects, there would have been no controversy. Because risking an early death with alcohol or tobacco is permitted by law.

But are ‘head shops’ not exemplary cases of lawful enterprise? Their whole basis is ‘legal highs’, that is, ‘highs’ with rigorous respect to the law of the land. They invite obedience to the law, and not its contravention. If anything, they are a creature of the law. If certain drugs were legal, they would not exist.

Perhaps we should take this further, taking a cue from Marx: the law itself in this regard has been produced by criminals. 

A philosopher produces ideas, a poet poems, a clergyman sermons, a professor compendia and so on. A criminal produces crimes. If we take a closer look at the connection between this latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law…

The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc. ; and all these different lines of business, which form just as many categories of the social division of labour, develop different capacities of the human mind, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employed many honourable craftsmen in the production of its instruments. The criminal produces an impression, partly moral and partly tragic, as the case may be, and in this way renders a “service” by arousing the moral and aesthetic feelings of the public. He produces not only compendia on Criminal Law, not only penal codes and along with them legislators in this field, but also art, belles-lettres, novels, and even tragedies, as not only Mullner’s Schuld and Schiller’s Räuber show, but Oedipus and Richard the Third. The criminal breaks the monotony and everyday security of bourgeois life.


Crime, through its ever new methods of attack on property, constantly calls into being new methods of defence, and so is as productive as strikes for the invention of machines. And if one leaves the sphere of private crime: would the world market ever have come into being but for national crime? Indeed, would even the nations have arisen? And has not the Tree of Sin been at the same time the Tree of Knowledge ever since the time of Adam?

Perhaps it’s clear, then, from this point of view, that behind the claims of legality made by those selling ‘legal highs’ lies the backing of a vast criminal enterprise, supported expertly by the unmerciful judge himself.

Even if this point of view is not shared, it does lead us in the direction of a more fundamental difficulty with the idea of the judge asking for his premises to be vacated because of the products sold therein, legal or otherwise.

The difficulty is that the judge owns rental property. As the report illustrates, the ownership of rental property affords him a degree of public power entirely separate from the jurisdiction of his court. He can exercise his judgement to determine what is good and right for the area in which he holds this rental property, and he has done so on this occasion. There is therefore a conflict of interest between his activities as a judge, which would appear to involve robust decisions in the interests of protecting private property, and his activities as a landlord.

One such example was in his decision, in 2004, to refuse bail to 12 protesters charged with public order offences.

They had been arrested initially and remanded in custody last Saturday night but six of them had been admitted to bail during the following three days.

Applications for bail were made by solicitors on behalf of the remaining protestors who had stayed in custody and in most cases, Garda Sgt Brendan Stynes said, he had no objection to bail.

However, Judge John Coughlan refused each individual application for bail. When asked why he was refusing bail, he said it was due to the “serious nature of the offence”.

All of the protesters arrested following the disturbances outside Phoenix Park, bar one, were charged under Section 4, 6 or 8 of the Public Order Act.

The court heard that unless Maynooth student Fergal Mawe (21) was released on bail he could miss his exams but Judge Coughlan replied that he should have thought about his exams when he turned up at the May Day protest.

The court also heard that co-accused Robert McKevitt’s five- and eight-year-old children were unaware of their father’s whereabouts and were “fretful and upset”. However, again bail was refused and the defendant was remanded in custody to May 12 next.

Another defendant, Harry Johnstone (20), of Rathgar Rd, Dublin 6 was on bail in relation to the charge of stealing a garda cap. He was remanded back in custody.

A spokesperson for the Grass Roots Network, an organisation representing a number of anti-globalisation groups involved in the weekend’s protests, said Judge Coughlan had sent a clear message that political protests were not to be tolerated.

There are serious questions to be answered about how the judge’s ownership of rental property influences how severely he views particular offences. One should note, however, that both the power he enjoys when refusing bail, and that which he enjoys when deciding what to do with his private property, are both entirely legal highs.

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February 2010