DPP v Redmond

 
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[2006] IESC 25,

Supreme Court

[S.C. No. 160 of 2004]
The People (Director of Public Prosecutions) v. Redmond
In the matter of s. 16 of the Courts of Justice Act 1947. The People (at the suit of the Director of Public Prosecutions)
Prosecutor
and
Sean Redmond, Accused and The Attorney General, Notice Party

Cases mentioned in this report:-

Attorney-General v. O'BrienIR [1936] I.R. 263.

Bratty v. Attorney General for Northern IrelandELRWLRUNKUNK [1963] A.C. 386; [1961] 3 W.L.R. 965; [1961] 3 All E.R. 523; (1961) 46 Cr. App. R. 1.

Doyle v. Wicklow County CouncilIR [1974] I.R. 55.

The People (Attorney General) v. MessittIR [1972] I.R. 204.

The People v. O'MahonyIRDLRM [1985] I.R. 517; [1986] I.L.R.M. 245.

R. v. PodolaELRWLRUNKUNK [1960] 1 Q.B. 325; [1959] 3 W.L.R. 718; [1959] 3 All E.R. 418; (1959) 43 Cr. App. R. 220.

R. v. PritchardENR (1836) 7 C. & P. 303.

Regina v. KempELRWLRUNK [1957] 1 Q.B. 399; [1956] 3 W.L.R. 724; [1956] 3 All E.R. 249.

The State (C.) v. Minister for JusticeIRDLTR [1967] I.R. 106; (1968) 102 I.L.T.R. 177.

Criminal law - Insanity - Guilty plea - Jurisdiction to refuse plea of guilty - Unprovoked assault - Evidence that accused insane at time of incident - Whether motive of accused in pleading relevant - Whether abuse of process to accept guilty plea.

Cur. adv. vult.

Denham J

6th April, 2006

1 This is a consultative case stated pursuant to s. 16 of the Courts of Justice Act 1947 from His Honour Judge Kevin Haugh S.C. who was sitting to hear a trial on indictment at Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court. Subsequently the trial judge has become a judge of the High Court. The President of the High Court and the President of the Circuit Court, pursuant to s. 12 of the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002, requested Haugh J., who in turn agreed, to retain seisin of this case and to sit as a Circuit Court Judge for the purpose of this case.

2 The question asked of this court is:-

"Have I the power/duty or should I decline to act on a plea of guilty if, on the evidence before me, I am satisfied that I have substantial grounds for believing that the accused was insane at the time he committed the acts alleged to constitute the offence. Should I in those circumstances decline to accept a plea of guilty, enter a plea of 'not guilty' on behalf of the accused and seek to ensure that the issue of his insanity is fully investigated in the course of his trial?"

3 On the 1st July, 2003, the accused was before Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court on a single count of causing serious harm, contrary to s. 4(1) of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. It was alleged that on the 20th November, 2002, at Castlebar he intentionally or recklessly caused serious harm to Liam Humber.

4 Defence counsel applied to the trial court for a jury to be empanelled to determine the issue as to whether or not the accused was fit to plead. This application was subsequently withdrawn.

5 When arraigned at Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court on the 1st July, 2003, before Judge Kenny the accused pleaded guilty. The matter was then adjourned to the following term for sentence. The accused was remanded in custody.

6 The matter was listed before Judge Haugh at Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court on the 9th December, 2003 and the 13th December, 2003, was fixed for the sentence hearing.

7 On the 12th December, 2003, Detective Garda R.J. Lawlor gave evidence in relation to the offence and the background circumstances.

8 The facts were found by the Circuit Criminal Court as follows:-

"Around 9.30 a.m. on the 20th November, 2002, the accused attacked the victim with a knife and caused him serious injuries. The attack was an unprovoked attack in the vicinity of St. Mary's psychiatric hospital in Castlebar and was witnessed by a number of individuals. The accused has a psychiatric history and was attending the hospital on the morning in question for an appointment with his psychiatrist, Dr. John Connolly. The victim was an in-patient of St. Mary's psychiatric hospital. Following the stabbing the accused went into an office in the psychiatric hospital. He told a person in the office that he had stabbed somebody and he told them where the knife was. No rational motive or discernable reason was established for the attack. The accused apparently told Dr. O'Rourke, psychiatrist, when examined on the day of the incident that he had heard voices telling him to 'get them' and that his attack was in response to the voices."

9 By agreement with the prosecution the defence submitted medical reports as follows: (a) from Dr. Charles Smith, consultant psychiatrist, Central Mental Hospital, and (b) from Dr. Seamus Geraghty, consultant psychiatrist; the book of evidence contained (c) a statement of evidence from Dr. John Connolly, consultant psychiatrist; and (d) a statement of evidence from Dr. O'Rourke, consultant psychiatrist.

10 The trial judge attached the reports to the consultative case stated. No finding of fact was made specifically on the reports other than what may be inferred from the question to this court where the trial judge states: "I am satisfied that I have substantial grounds for believing that the accused was insane at the time he committed the acts alleged to constitute the offence". In general it is more appropriate if findings of fact are made in the body of the case stated.

11 The trial judge raised the point with counsel that there was no defence of diminished responsibility in Irish law, and reference was made to The People v. O'MahonyIR [1985] I.R. 517.

The trial judge stated in the consultative case stated:-

"In light of the evidence before me, I am of the opinion that there are substantial grounds for believing that the accused may have been insane in law at the time of the commission of the alleged offence and that a defence of 'not guilty' may be a more appropriate plea that a plea of 'guilty'. As I understand the law, it is that a person who is found not guilty by reason of insanity is deserving of treatment not punishment whereas a person who pleads guilty or who is found guilty is deserving of punishment. I am informed that the plea of the accused in this instance is motivated by practical considerations -i.e. he would prefer to have a definite sentence rather than a situation whereby he would be detained at the pleasure of the Government in the Central Mental Hospital."

In these circumstances the trial judge sought the assistance of this court.

12 Submissions were made to this court on behalf of the accused, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Attorney General, who was made a notice party to the case stated.

On behalf of the Attorney General it was submitted that there is sufficient caselaw and established practice and procedure which would enable the trial judge to vacate the guilty plea which was proffered before the court on the 1st July, 2003. It was submitted that the court should not facilitate a sham or should not facilitate what appears to be an avoidance of proper principles and law concerning the whole issue of insanity and fitness to plead. It was submitted that the trial judge has a duty to ensure that there is a basic fairness of procedures between the accused, the prosecution and the public at large.

13 On behalf of the prosecutor it was submitted that the court has inherent jurisdiction so that it may give directions to enable it to fulfil its function of administering justice. It was submitted that the court may reject the plea of an accused if the court is of the opinion that it is based on a misunderstanding of the offence charged. Reference was made to caselaw, in none of which cases was the issue of insanity raised by the prosecution. It was submitted that if in this case the trial judge were to refuse to accept a plea of guilty and direct that a plea of not guilty be entered it is possible that the accused might refuse to offer any evidence to the jury. In such an event a necessity would arise for the prosecutor to put all the available and relevant facts bearing on the issue of guilt and also all available facts bearing on the issue of the absence of guilt by reason of insanity before the jury. The problems relating to the onus of proof were canvassed, and I shall return to this matter later in the judgment. It was submitted that if this court is satisfied that the trial judge has an inherent jurisdiction and a duty in the interests of justice to follow procedures which respect truth and have proper regard for the dignity and best interests of the accused and of the public then it may be concluded that the trial judge is entitled to refuse to accept the plea of guilty offered by the accused and to direct the trial of the issue as to his guilt to proceed and that the prosecutor present such evidence as is available to him as well in relation to the acts offered in proof of the act constituting the offence charged as to the facts, acts, and opinions from experts, necessary for the jury to consider and determine whether the accused was guilty of the offence charged or not guilty by reason of insanity.

14 On behalf of the accused it was submitted that, the accused having been assessed by his medical team as fit to plead, he is entitled to decide how he will exercise his right to plead and should not be obstructed in entering the plea he wishes. It was submitted that the trial judge does not have the power to go behind the plea entered...

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