Attorney General v Connolly

CourtHigh Court
Judgment Date27 January 1947
Date27 January 1947

High Court

Attorney-General v. Connolly

Contempt of Court - Special Criminal Court - Newspaper publication of comment on murder trial then at hearing - Scandalising the Court - Interfering with administration of justice - Motion to attach writer of article - Jurisdiction of High Court - Constitutional right to trial by jury - Constitutional status of Special Criminal Court - Constitution of 1937, Arts. 34, 38.

Motion to make absolute a conditional order of attachment made against the defendant, Ross Connolly.

The conditional order, which was granted by Dixon J. on the 19th December, 1946, ordered that, unless cause be shown to the contrary within ten days after personal service of the order on Ross Connolly, "an Order of Attachment do issue against Ross Connolly in the title hereof named, to answer his contempt in (a) scandalising the Special Criminal Court and (b) publishing words calculated to impede and interfere with the administration of justice by writing for publication, passing for publication and causing to be printed and published in Column 1, page 2 in the November-December, 1946, issue of the paper publication called 'Resurgence' certain scandalous words as follows:—

'Editorial—Henry White.'

'Another soldier of Ireland has fallen into the hands of the Republic's enemies and is fast approaching his martyrdom. This much is certain if the present course of Fianna Fail justice is allowed to take its way. Henry White has been handed over by the Black Police of the North to their equally shaded brothers of the South and now he awaits his death, which sentence will inevitably be passed on him, after his mockery of a trial before the Special Criminal Court is over.'"

The facts giving rise to the motion before the Court were as follows:—

On the 3rd December, 1946, at a sitting of the Special Criminal Court, one Henry White, alias Anderson, was arraigned on an indictment charging him with the murder

of Detective Garda George Mordant. Upon plea of "not guilty" the trial thereupon opened and was concluded on the 12th December, 1946, when Henry White was found guilty and sentenced to death. On the 7th December, 1946, a Detective Inspector of the Garda Siochana searched, under warrant, premises in Parnell Square, Dublin, and seized approximately 4,000 copies of a publication entitled,"Resurgence," bearing date November-December, 1946. This publication, which contained the matter set out in the conditional order quoted above, had been printed by the Frederick Press, a firm of general printers of which the sole proprietor was one Edmund Saul. The particular article, entitled "Editorial" had been written by the defendant, Ross Connolly, and the original copy for that issue of the paper had been brought and delivered by the defendant, Ross Connolly, to the Frederick Press for printing and publication.

On the application to make absolute the conditional order of attachment, an affidavit sworn by the defendant, Ross Connolly, was filed in which he stated that he was nineteen years of age and was a member of the Committee of Sinn Fèin. He said he was responsible for the drafting of the article in question and that although the make-up of the paper which he gave to the Frederick Press had been prepared by him, the publication had not been under his authority, but the proofs had been passed and approved by the President of Sinn Fèin on behalf of the Committee. He referred to the conditional order of attachment and to the article to which the order referred, and submitted that he had not been guilty of a contempt; that the words used were fair comment on a matter of public interest; that the words used would not and could not and were not calculated to interfere with the administration of justice or to affect the result of the trial of Henry White, and that the contempt, if any, was in its nature criminal and not punishable by attachment. In the course of the remainder of his affidavit the defendant alleged a number of facts relative to his state of mind at the time of the preparation of the article in question, and referred to the trials by the Special Criminal Court of Michael Quill and Charles Kerins, and also made allegations concerning the appointment and qualifications of the members of that Court and the manner of applying justice in that Court.

The High Court has full jurisdiction under Art. 34, s. 3 of the Constitution to deal with contempt of Court by the summary procedure of attachment and this jurisdiction is not superseded by the constitutional right to trial by jury on a criminal charge.

The Special Criminal Court established under the provisions of Art. 38 of the Constitution and under the Offences against the State Act, 1939, is a Court for the administration of justice and the High Court will, in its discretion, punish a person who scandalises the Special Criminal Court notwithstanding that that Court has jurisdiction, itself, to punish for such a contempt.

So held by the High Court (Gavan Duffy P., Maguire and Davitt JJ.)

Cur. adv. vult.

Gavan Duffy P. :—

This motion is brought on behalf of the Attorney-General for an order of attachment against the defendant for contempt of court by a publication scandalising the Special Criminal Court and calculated to impede and interfere with the administration of justice. The defendant, a member of the committee of "Sinn Féin," wrote an editorial and caused it to be printed and published in a journal which is the organ of a political party bitterly opposed to the State and to the Government; some 10,000 copies were printed, but a smaller number was actually distributed. In the course of his article, vehemently attacking the Government, the writer stated that one, Henry White, then about to be tried by the Special Criminal Court on a charge of murder, was "fast approaching his martyrdom" and that "now he awaits his death, which sentence will inevitably be passed on him, after the mockery of a trial before the Special Criminal Court." Intemperate language in politics is nothing new, but propaganda cannot justify the publication of that reckless attack on a Court, and no one can measure the harm it might do among uninformed readers, with no suspicion of the fact that this invective was the effort of a youth of nineteen.

I have considered this application with special care, because the right of free speech is invoked, because this is a criminal matter and therefore, under the Constitution.

prima facie, a case for trial by jury, and because, an exceptional tribunal of laymen being an obvious target for opponents of the Government, I want the plain citizen to realise that the High Court of Justice is independent of the Executive and strives to give an impartial judgment between the Attorney-General and the citizen, however hostile the defendant may be to the Government. In view of the old, traditional distrust of the criminal administration that long pervaded the mind of the people during the British regime, it is essential to the rule of law in the new Ireland that the public should be convinced that justice is being truly administered, in...

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3 books & journal articles
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