DPP -v- Paul Murray, [2012] IECCA 60 (2012)

Docket Number:178/11
Party Name:DPP, Paul Murray
Judge:Finnegan J


Moriarty J.




APPELLANTJUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Finnegan delivered on 27th February, 2012

This appeal against the severity of a sentence imposed in respect of social welfare fraud raises an issue of fundamental importance at a time of crisis for the public finances. How should a sentencing court treat offenders who have defrauded the public revenue by either engaging in unlawful tax evasion on the one hand or (as in this case) by making false social welfare claims on the other? Given the intrinsic importance of such questions for the public weal - not least at a time of financial emergency - it seems appropriate that this Court should now give some general guidance for future cases of this kind given that prosecutions for tax evasion and welfare fraud are likely to be a more common feature of the criminal justice landscape in the years ahead than may have been the case heretofore.

Before embarking on this exercise, it is necessary first to narrate the background facts to this application. The appellant, Mr. Murray, was charged with one count of having a false passport, contrary to s. 20(1)(b) of the Passports Act 2008, and seventy four counts of theft, contrary to s. 4 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2011. In respect of the theft offences Mr. Murray stood charged that on various individual dates between 2006 and 2010 he dishonestly appropriated sums of money ranging from €165.80 to €408.60 from the Department of Social Protection.

At a hearing before the Circuit Court on 21st July 2011 (His Honour Judge Anthony Kennedy), the appellant pleaded guilty to the false passport charge (count 1), and to twenty five sample counts of social welfare fraud. The appellant received a prison sentence of three years on the false passport charge and at the hearing before this Court counsel for the appellant, Mr. Byrne, fairly conceded that that sentence was unobjectionable in principle. However, the appellant strongly objects to the severity of the sentence imposed in respect of the twenty five sample fraud charges, since Judge Kennedy here imposed a sentence of 6 months in respect of count 2 on the indictment concurrent with the sentence imposed on count 1, followed by twenty four sentences of 6 months’ imprisonment, all of them running consecutively to each other and concurrent to the sentence imposed on count 1. In sum, therefore, the appellant received a sentence of 12 and one half years. The sentences were expressed to commence on the date he went into custody, namely, 19th October 2010.

The appellant is now 63 years old. He is a former carpenter, but since 1995 he has treated Thailand as his adopted home. He lived there with his partner in an apartment to which he contributed 40% of the purchase moneys. Over the last number of years the appellant conceived an elaborate and sophisticated social welfare fraud, which was said by a very experienced investigating officer, Ms. Patricia Mulloy, to be the largest fraud of its kind uncovered to date. During this period the appellant misappropriated sums of an aggregate marginally less than €249,000 by making diverse claims for jobseeker’s allowance, disability allowance and supplementary welfare allowance, in the name of nine different identities, including members of his own family.

The fraud originally came to light when staff at the Passport Office in Dublin received an application for a passport which had been transmitted from the Embassy in Canberra. That application was in the name of a younger brother of the applicant. It was noticed that a passport bearing these details had already been issued in that name in 2005. The file for that passport was checked and it emerged that the picture on that passport was that of the appellant. The...

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