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Cite as: [2005] IECCA 140

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Judgment Title: D.P.P.-v- Nora Wall

Neutral Citation: [2005] IE CCA 140

Court of Criminal Appeal Record Number: 147/99

Date of Delivery: 16/12/2005

Court: Court of Criminal Appeal

Composition of Court: Kearns J., Herbert J., Butler J.

Judgment by: Kearns J.

Status of Judgment: Approved

Judgments by
Kearns J.
Grant application for miscarriage of justice

Outcome: Grant application


Kearns J.
Herbert J.
Butler J.

[CCA 147/99]
JUDGMENT of the court delivered this 16th day of December, 2005, by Kearns J.

On 10 June, 1999, the applicant was convicted by the Central Criminal Court of rape contrary to common law and of indecent assault contrary to common law as punishable by s.10 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act, 1981. On 23 July, 1999, the applicant was sentenced by the Central Criminal Court to imprisonment for life for the offence of rape and to 5 years imprisonment for indecent assault.

On 27 July, 1999, the applicant brought a bail application before the Court of Criminal Appeal, at which point senior counsel on behalf of the respondent conveyed to that court the respondent’s consent to the granting of leave to appeal, and further consented that the appeal be allowed and that a retrial be directed. This startling turn of events was referable to (a) the inadvertent calling as a witness on behalf of the prosecution, Patricia Phelan, a person whom the respondent had specifically directed should not be so called at the trial and (b) matters regarding the complainant, Regina Walsh, which had not been disclosed to the lawyers representing the applicant prior to trial.

On 22 November, 1999, counsel for the respondent indicated to the court of criminal appeal that the respondent was not proceeding with an application for a retrial. Counsel for the respondent further indicated that the respondent “fully and ungrudgingly” accepted that the applicant was entitled to be presumed innocent of all charges preferred against her. The court accordingly quashed the conviction of the applicant and the sentences imposed in respect thereof.

The Application before the Court

Section 9 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1993, (“The Act”) provides as follows:-

“9. —(1) Where a person has been convicted of an offence and either—

The applicant, her conviction having been quashed by this court on appeal, now seeks a certificate that a range of newly discovered facts reveal that there was a miscarriage of justice in her conviction, within the provisions of s.9(1)(a)(ii) of the Act. The respondent has indicated to the court, both through counsel and in writing, that the respondent is not opposing this application on the part of the applicant. At the opening of the hearing before this court, Mr. Comyn, senior counsel on behalf of the respondent, helpfully further indicated to the court that the respondent agreed that a certificate should issue in this case.

The Applicable Legal Principles

From an examination of the existing jurisprudence, the applicable legal principles appear to be as follows:-
(1) An application pursuant to s.9 of the Act is a civil claim in which the onus of proving that a newly discovered fact shows there has been a miscarriage of justice rests on the applicant (The People (DPP) v Pringle (No.2)[1997] 2 IR 225; The People (DPP) v Meleady & Grogan (No.3)[2001] 4 IR 16).
(2) The standard of proof is the same standard as in any civil claim, namely the balance of probabilities.
(3) An exhaustive definition of the term “miscarriage of justice” has not been attempted by the Court of Criminal Appeal or by the Supreme Court which has indicated that courts should not attempt such a definition (The People (DPP) v Pringle (No.2) [1997] 2 IR 225).
(4) Examples of circumstances which may constitute a miscarriage of justice include, but are not limited to the following:-
(a) Where it is established that the applicant was innocent of the crime alleged.
(b) Where a prosecution should never have been brought in the sense that there was never any credible evidence implicating the applicant.
(c) Where there has been such a departure from the rules which permeate all judicial procedures as to make that which happened altogether irreconcilable with judicial or constitutional procedure.
(d) Where there has been a grave defect in the administration of justice, brought about by agents of the State (The People (DPP) v Shortt (No.2) [2002] 2 IR 696).
(5) The exercise in which the court is engaged under the Act of 1993 is to determine whether the newly discovered facts show that a miscarriage of justice occurred and this is not confined to the question of actual innocence but extends to the administration in a given case of the justice system itself (The People (DPP) v Meleady & Grogan (No.3) [2001] 4 IR 16.

The Newly-Discovered Facts

Without demur from the respondent, Mr. Rogers, senior counsel for the applicant, outlined the following facts, which fall into three broad categories, as constituting “newly-discovered facts” within the meaning of s.9 of the Act:-
(1) Regina Walsh - history of previous allegations, her psychiatric history immediately prior to the making of the complaints against the applicant and her reliance on ‘flashbacks’, so described by her, to retrieve these alleged incidents from her past
(a) That the complainant, Regina Walsh, had previously alleged that she was raped in London by a black man, in respect of which allegation she had made no complaint to the police.
(b) That the complainant, Regina Walsh, had previously had a violent relationship with her then boyfriend Tommy Mulcahy, in the course of which she was beaten and abused, as a consequence of which she was twice admitted to hospital, but in respect of which she made no complaint to the police.
(c) That the complainant, Regina Walsh, had made a complaint of assault against her aunt June O’Brien to the Garda Siochana in Waterford in 1996, which complaint was withdrawn by her some days after making same.
(d) That the complainant, Regina Walsh, had made three complaints to the Garda Siochana of assaults upon her by one Carol Tracey, who was never traced and in respect of which complaints no proceedings took place.
(e) That the complainant, Regina Walsh, had taken an overdose of tablets in 1996, as a consequence of which she was admitted to St. Declan’s Ward, Ardkeen Hospital, Waterford, under the care of one Dr. Sheppard, for psychiatric assessment and treatment immediately prior to her making the complaints the subject matter of the prosecution of the applicant.
(f) That had the direction of the respondent been followed the only evidence in the case against the applicant would have been that of the complainant, Regina Walsh, whose recollection of events was admitted to be solely the product of ‘flashbacks’ and who had no full memory or recall in the matter.
(2) Patricia Phelan - the calling of a witness deemed to be unreliable despite the respondent’s specific direction not to do so - non-disclosure of the unreliability of the witness.
(g) That on the 24 April, 1997, the respondent had directed, for reasons as yet undisclosed, that one Patricia Phelan ought not to be called as a witness for the prosecution upon the trial of the applicant. Patricia Phelan had, on the 10 January, 1997, made a statement to Garda Sinead Connolly, then of Kilkenny Garda Station, purporting to corroborate the complaints made by Regina Walsh, by giving an eye-witness account of the alleged participation by the applicant in the alleged rape of the complainant.
(h) That the said Patricia Phelan had made prior complaints involving indecent assault and/or rape to the Garda Siochana against Harry Phelan, her late uncle, and also against one Michael Fitzpatrick.
(i) That the prosecution by the respondent of the said Michael Fitzpatrick for rape and indecent assault upon the sister of the said Patricia Phelan and for indecent assault upon the said Patricia Phelan was restrained on the grounds of delay in judicial review proceedings heard in the High Court before McCracken J., in the course of whose judgment, doubts were expressed concerning the credibility of the evidence offered by the said Patricia Phelan.
(j) That the said Patricia Phelan had made prior complaints to the Garda Siochana against one Joe Maguire that he had ripped off her shirt and assaulted her, and these complaints were later withdrawn by her.
(k) That Garda Sinead Connolly, then of Kilkenny Garda Station, who was responsible for taking the aforementioned statement of Patricia Phelan on 10 January, 1997, in pursuance of the investigation of the complaints made by Regina Walsh against the applicant, was also a member of the Garda Siochana responsible for investigating the foregoing complaints by Patricia Phelan against Harry Phelan and Michael Fitzpatrick.
(l) That the respondent herein was a party to the aforementioned judicial review proceedings in Fitzpatrick v DPP, of which the Chief State Solicitor had carriage on behalf of the respondent and in which the prosecution of Michael Fitzpatrick on foot of complaints by Patricia Phelan had been restrained by McCracken J.
(3) Regina Walsh and Patricia Phelan - false statements in evidence
(m) That the said Patricia Phelan after the trial, conviction and sentence of the applicant, had voluntarily made contact with Sr. Mona Killeen, who had been a lifelong friend and supporter, and admitted to her and subsequently to members of An Garda Síochána also, that she had lied in her statement and in her evidence upon the trial of the applicant, in saying that she had witnessed the involvement of the applicant in the alleged rape and sexual assault of the complainant, Regina Walsh, when she had not.
(n) That the complainant, Regina Walsh, had connived in the said deception by the said Patricia Phelan.

Form of the Hearing

Having regard to the agreement expressed on behalf of the respondent that this was an appropriate case in which the court should issue a certificate under the Act, the court decided in the first instance to proceed by means of an outline of the facts to be presented by counsel for the applicant in the presence of Patricia Phelan. That outline having been completed, the court then invited Mr. Comyn to consult with Patricia Phelan, who was identified to the court and who remained present in court throughout the recitation of the facts, to enquire if she wished to give evidence in contradiction of anything stated by counsel. Mr. Rogers having completed his outline of the facts, the court then rose to enable this consultation to take place, following which Mr. Comyn advised the court that Patricia Phelan wished only to confirm that the outline of facts was accurate and to further confirm her statement made to the gardaí on 2 April 2001. In the course of that statement, Patricia Phelan had stated :-

Needless to remark, the fact that a corroborative witness is shown to be unreliable would not of itself amount to a miscarriage of justice. However the evidence went a great deal further in the present case to the point where it is now established that Patricia Phelan on 10 January 1997 made a statement to the Garda Siochana which was untrue and at the trial gave entirely fabricated evidence in circumstances which give rise to a compelling inference of collusion between her and the complainant resulting in the fabrication of evidence which in the judgment of this court would render it unsafe to leave any of the evidence of either girl to a jury. The present case was almost equally noteworthy for the significant failures of communication between the various offices and persons concerned in the prosecution. In recommending that a prosecution against the applicant be brought, the officer charged with responsibility for the file within the respondent’s office had noted as follows:-

Evidence of Patricia Phelan

Following receipt of this recommendation, a decision to prosecute the applicant was made on 24 April, 1997. In so directing, an instruction was given that the defence solicitors be given copies of the statements made by Patricia Phelan and that they be further informed that the prosecution did not intend to call her as a witness. Owing to an oversight, the Office of the Chief State Solicitor omitted to inform the legal advisers of the applicant that it was not intended to call Patricia Phelan as a witness at the trial. While her statements were not included in the book of evidence served on the defendants, senior counsel in advising proofs on 28 April, 1998, directed that Patricia Phelan be called as a prosecution witness. In a letter dated 1 October, 1999, written by the respondent to the Attorney General, the respondent stated that:-Unfortunately neither junior counsel or the solicitor in attendance at the trial from the office of the Chief State Solicitor reminded senior counsel of the direction from the respondent and accordingly Patricia Phelan gave evidence at the trial. The importance of that evidence may be gauged from the fact that the jury only convicted the applicant in respect of one incident, that being the incident in respect of which Patricia Phelan gave corroborative evidence. In respect of the other offence, which depended exclusively upon the evidence of the complainant, the jury acquitted the applicant. Further, the learned trial judge had seen fit in his summing up at the conclusion of the trial to decide, in exercising the discretion vested in him so to do by statute, to warn the jury about the dangers of acting without corroboration on the evidence of the complainant alone.

In the course of his outline of the facts to this court, Mr. Rogers also drew the court’s attention to similarities in detail which emerged in the statements furnished by the complainant and Patricia Phelan, suggesting connivance to a significant degree between the two girls. He further adverted to the fact that Garda Sinead Connolly was a garda officer common to both this particular prosecution, and the prosecution of Michael Fitzpatrick, wherein McCracken J. had expressed doubts of his own about the credibility of Patricia Phelan as a witness.

Conclusion of This Court

In acceding to the application of the applicant herein, the court does not find it necessary to distinguish in terms of gravity between the various newly-discovered facts which the court is satisfied show that there has been a miscarriage of justice in this case. The prosecution which did take place inasmuch as it involved the tendering of corroborative evidence by a witness known to be unreliable was thus, in that format, a prosecution that should not have been brought. There was further a most unfortunate breakdown in communications or systems failure between the respondent’s office, that of the Chief State Solicitor, the Garda Siochana and prosecuting counsel which the court is satisfied constituted a serious defect in the administration of justice brought about however unintentionally in this instance by agents of the State. It is now also accepted by the respondent that there had been significant non-disclosure in this case, including (a) the information that Regina Walsh had made, but not pursued, an allegation of being raped in England and (b) the non-disclosure of Regina Walsh’s very proximate and material psychiatric history. It seems to this court that the applicant was further prejudiced during the course of her trial by evidence of which the defence had no prior notification, namely, that Regina Walsh recalled the alleged episodes of rape by reference to ‘flashbacks and/or retrieved memory’. There was no scientific evidence of any sort adduced to explain the phenomenon of ‘flashbacks’ and/or ‘retrieved memory’, nor was the applicant in any position to meet such a case in the absence of prior notification thereof.

As previously indicated, this court does not find it necessary on the agreed facts of this case to elaborate a hierarchy of the newly-discovered facts which either singly or cumulatively amount to a miscarriage of justice. Virtually all of the newly-discovered facts are facts of significance which confirm the court in its view that there has been a miscarriage of justice in this instance.

The court will therefore grant the certificate sought in this case.