Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Eoin Reynolds

The Court of Appeal refused to hear a bail application on Wednesday afternoon for Lisa Smith, a former Irish soldier who was sentenced just five days ago for joining Isis when she travelled to Syria in 2015.

However, the three-judge court did agree to take the “unusual step” of first hearing an appeal against the severity of her 15-month sentence when the courts return from their summer break on October 4th, before an appeal against her conviction is heard.

Smith watched via video-link from prison as her lawyers asked the court to consider an immediate bail application.

Mr Justice George Birmingham, presiding at the three-judge court, said that the application would require “considerable preparation” and said he has not yet received a copy of the verdict and sentence judgments delivered by the Special Criminal Court.

He said at this point there is “no possibility to deal in a substantial way with all the issues”.

While Smith intends to appeal her conviction, Mr Justice Birmingham said the court would be willing to hear the sentence appeal on October 4th, before hearing the conviction appeal.

One of the grounds of appeal against the severity of her sentence will be that the Special Criminal Court did not give enough credit to Smith for the time she spent in refugee camps in Syria before she returned to Ireland in 2019.

Her lawyers argued that the time she spent in “appalling conditions” in the Al-Hawl and Ain Issa camps in Syria, combined with a nightly curfew she has lived with since returning to Ireland, meant she had already served about four years.

Precedence

At Wednesday’s hearing, Mr Justice Birmingham told the lawyers on both sides to look at a recent judgment by the appeals court relating to a man who fled this jurisdiction and ended up in immigration detention in the Philippines before returning to Ireland.

He said it might be of assistance to Smith’s lawyers as the judgment states that a sentencing court here “should have regard” to time spent in detention in such cases.

Earlier this year, Smith became the first person to be convicted in an Irish court of an Islamic terrorist offence committed abroad when the three-judge, non-jury Special Criminal Court found that she joined Isis when she travelled to Syria in 2015.

The 40-year-old from Dundalk, Co Louth had pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group, Islamic State, between October 28th, 2015 and December 1st, 2019.

Sentencing her to 15 months in prison, Mr Justice Tony Hunt noted that while Smith is a low risk for re-offending, she was persistent and determined in her efforts to travel to Syria and join Isis and has shown no remorse for her actions.

He said it was “serious” for an Irish citizen to take up allegiance with a terrorist organisation and persist with it.

He added that “she may have been easily led by circumstances and other people” but she had also shown resilience and determination to join and remain with Isis “to the bitter end”.

Custodial sentence

She had rejected her family and one of her husbands, who refused to swear allegiance to Isis, and had aligned herself with terrorists such as John Georgelas, an American Isis fighter and propagandist who was killed during fighting in Syria.

He said that a custodial sentence was necessary to mark the seriousness of the offence and to deter others from offering support to dangerous organisations.

During Garda interviews, Smith accepted that she travelled to Isis-controlled Syria in 2015 but denied she had ever joined Isis or any other group.

She said she believed she had a religious obligation to live inside the Islamic State created by terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Mr Justice Hunt, delivering the court’s verdict, said Smith went to Syria with her “eyes wide open” having watched videos of Isis atrocities and having taken part in online discussions about Isis with jihadis from Germany, Australia, America and parts of the Middle East.

He said her journey to Syria was in itself an act of allegiance and pointed to evidence that she swore an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi and that she urged her former husband to do the same and divorced him when he refused.

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