DPP v Heffernan

CourtSupreme Court
JudgeClarke J.,MacMenamin J.,Dunne J.
Judgment Date26 February 2016
Neutral Citation[2016] IESCDET 32
Date26 February 2016

[2016] IESCDET 32



Clarke J.

MacMenamin J.

Dunne J.

RESULT: The Court grants leave to the Applicant to appeal to this Court from the Court of Appeal
1. Jurisdiction

This determination relates to an application by the defendant/applicant (‘Mr. Heffernan’) for leave to appeal, under Art. 34.5.3 of the Constitution, from a judgment of the Court of Appeal (Ryan P., Sheehan and Edwards JJ.) delivered on the 21st December, 2015. The order appealed against was made on the 21st December, 2015 and perfected on the 11th January, 2016. As is clear from the terms of the Constitution and many determinations made by this Court since the enactment of the 33rd Amendment it is necessary, in order for this Court to grant leave, that it be established that the decision sought to be appealed either involves a matter of general public importance or that it is otherwise in the interest of justice necessary that there be an appeal to this Court.

2. The Proceedings

In these criminal proceedings Mr. Heffernan was convicted before the Central Criminal Court of murder. It was not disputed at his trial that Mr. Heffernan had unlawfully caused the death of the deceased. The main issue at his trial concerned Mr. Heffernan's mental state and whether it could be said that, by reason of suffering from a mental disorder at the time in question, his responsibility for his actions was substantially diminished so that he should be found not guilty or murder but guilty of manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility under the provisions of s.6 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, 2006 (‘the 2006 Act’). That defence clearly did not succeed as Mr. Heffernan was, as already noted, convicted of murder.


From that conviction Mr. Heffernan appealed to the Court of Appeal. While a number of grounds were advanced at his appeal (all of which are addressed in the judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered by Edwards J.), for the purposes of this application for leave to pursue a further appeal to this Court it is sufficient to note that a central issue of contention between the parties at the appeal concerned the proper interpretation of the 2006 Act insofar as it touched on both the burden and standard of proof where a defence of diminished responsibility is raised. On the basis of the case made by Mr. Heffernan it was said that the trial judge (McCarthy J.) was incorrect in the way in which he had charged the jury. In substance, the Court of Appeal came to the view, contrary to the case made by Mr. Heffernan, that the 2006 Act did not have the effect of giving rise to any change in the previous common law position concerning the burden and standard of proof in insanity type cases and on that basis ruled that the jury had been correctly directed on those questions by the trial judge.

3. The Order appealed against

On the basis of that analysis of the law by it, the Court of Appeal dismissed Mr. Heffernan's appeal and affirmed his conviction. It is in respect of that order that Mr. Heffernan now seeks leave to appeal to this Court.

4. The Contentions of the Parties

The notice of application for leave to appeal together with the response is published along with this determination. It is not, in those circumstances, necessary to set out in full detail the contents of those documents. For the purposes of this determination it is sufficient to summarise the basis upon which the applicant suggests that the constitutional threshold for leave to appeal has been met.


On behalf of Mr. Heffernan it is suggested that the question raised will have implications for any other person raising the defence of diminished responsibility into the future and, on that basis, it is said that the issue is one of general public importance thus meeting the constitutional threshold.


In response the prosecutor/respondent (‘the D.P.P.’) largely seeks to suggest that the decision of the Court of Appeal was correct and refers to the fact that the D.P.P. agrees with the assessment of the Court of Appeal that the 2006 Act did not alter pre-existing common law rules.

5. Discussion

As is clear from a range of determinations made by this Court since the 33rd Amendment to the Constitution came into force, the constitutional function of this Court is no longer that of an appeal court designed to correct alleged errors by the trial court. Where it is said that the High Court has simply been in error in some...

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4 cases
  • Douglas v DPP
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 23 June 2016
    ...being so, it will be appropriate to decline leave even where the issue involved may be of general public importance. DPP v Heffernan [2016] IESCDET 32. 36 The applicant's first argument relates to the admissibility of the statements under section 16 of the 2006 Act and the lack of detailed ......
  • Determination Template
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 1 August 2019
    ...of the Court of Appeal relates to this applicant alone. The respondent relies on the determination of this Court in DPP v. Heffernan [2016] IESCDET 32 in this 16 The respondent submits: i. that the principles governing the withdrawal of a case from a jury and the obligation on the gardaí to......
  • Permanent TSB v Langan
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 17 November 2016
    ...that Mr. Langan is not opposing the granting of leave. Following the approach adopted in Director of Public Prosecutions v. Heffernan [2016] IESCDET 32, it is appropriate to note that, whether the Court of Appeal was correct or not, will be a matter for the appeal to this Court. It is only ......
  • Doolan v Ireland and The Attorney General
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 3 August 2016
    ...... D.P.P. v. Heffernan [2016] IESC DET. 32 . . 38 In this case the Court of Appeal looked at the substantive issue and considered all of the arguments advanced by the applicant. That court fully appreciated the points put forward and gave due and proper weight to them. It applied the ......

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