Lynch v Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform; Whelan v same

JurisdictionIreland
CourtSupreme Court
JudgeMurray C.J.
Judgment Date14 May 2010
Neutral Citation[2010] IESC 34
Docket Number[S.C. Nos. 15 of 2008 & 18 of 2009]

[2010] IESC 34

THE SUPREME COURT

Murray C.J.

Denham J.

Hardiman J.

Geoghegan J.

Macken J.

15/08
18/09
Lynch & Whelan v Min for Justice & Ors

BETWEEN

PAUL LYNCH
APPELLANT
-v-
THE MINISTER FOR JUSTICE, EQUALITY AND LAW REFORM, IRELAND AND THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
RESPONDENTS

AND

BETWEEN

PETER WHELAN
APPELLANT
-v-
THE MINISTER FOR JUSTICE, EQUALITY AND LAW REFORM, IRELAND AND THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Abstract:

Constitutional law - Criminal law - Life sentence - Proportionality - Declaration of incompatibility - Temporary release - ECHR law - Judicial function - Criminal Justice Act 1990 - European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003

Facts: The proceedings related to the constitutionality of s. 2 Criminal Justice Act 1990 and a claim made pursuant to s. 5 European Convention on Human Rights act 2003 for a declaration of incompatibility thereof. The issue arose as to the proportionality of the mandatory life sentence, its compatibility with Article 3 ECHR, the exercise of temporary release by the Minister pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act 1960, as amended, on the basis of its alleged interference with the judicial function and the separation of powers.

Held by the Supreme Court per Murray CJ. (Denham, Hardiman, Geoghegan, Macken JJ. concurring), that the Court was satisfied on the basis of the caselaw of the European Court of Human Rights that a mandatory life sentence was not itself incompatible with any article of the Convention, that a possibility of review thereof was not unlawful or incompatible with Article 3 ECHR, even if the prospect of release as limited to the exercise of executive discretion. A life sentence was wholly punitive and did not incorporate any element of a preventative detention. There was nothing in the system of temporary release which affected the punitive nature or character of a life sentence imposed pursuant to s. 2. The exercise of the discretion to grant release by the Minister was not one which any person was entitled to as of right. As to the application pursuant to s. 5 of the Act of 2003, the caselaw relied upon had not relationship to the circumstances of the case where the sentences imposed were wholly punitive and dissimilar to the United Kingdom procedures and provisions the subject of analysis in the European Court on Human Rights.

Reporter: E.F.

1

JUDGMENT of the Court delivered by Murray C.J. on the 14th day of May 2010

2

Judgment of the court delivered by Murray C. J

3

These two cases were heard together as they raise the same issues concerning a challenge to the constitutionality of s. 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990 and a claim made pursuant to s. 5(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 for a declaration that s.2 is incompatible with the provisions of the Convention.

4

Section 2 of the Act of 1990 provides as follows:-

5

2 "2.- A person convicted of treason or murder shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life."

6

Each of the appellants stand convicted for the crime of murder and have been duly sentenced to life imprisonment pursuant to the aforesaid section.

7

Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1964 provides:

8

2 "4.- (1) Where a person kills another unlawfully the killing shall not be murder unless the accused person intended to kill, or cause serious injury, to some person, whether the person actually killed or not"

9

On 2 nd December 2002 Peter Whelan was convicted for the crime of murder at the Central Criminal Court and sentenced to life imprisonment pursuant to s. 2 of the Act of 1990.

10

On 10 th February 1997 Paul Lynch was convicted for the crime of murder at the Central Criminal Court and also sentenced to life imprisonment for that offence.

11

The detention of the second appellant, Paul Lynch, was considered by the Parole Board in 2004, which has an advisory role only, and in July 2004 the first named defendant, the Minister, determined that the appellant should not be released from prison and that any further application in respect of his sentence would not be considered for a further period of three years.

12

As appears from s. 2 of the Act of 1990 a life sentence for the crime of murder is a mandatory sentence, leaving the courts no discretion but to impose it once a person is convicted of that crime. It is the mandatory nature of the sentence in all cases of murder that has given rise to the proceedings brought by each of the appellants.

History of the punishment for murder since 1922
13

For the purpose of addressing the issues raised in this case the Court considers it relevant to place the punishment imposed by the courts for the crime of murder in its legal and historical context.

14

At the foundation of the State in 1922 the crimes of murder, treason and piracy carried a mandatory death penalty. The duty of the courts to impose the mandatory death sentence upon any individual convicted of murder arose from sections 1 and 2 of the Offences Against The Person Act 1861.

15

That remained the position in law until the passing of the Criminal Justice Act 1964 which restricted the imposition of the death penalty to certain offences of murder which were categorized as capital murder in s. (1)(b) of the Act. Capital murder included, for example, murder of a member of An Garda Siochana or a prison officer acting in the course of his or her duty. Section (2) of the Act of 1964 provided for a mandatory life imprisonment for any person convicted of the crime of murder other than those designated as capital murder in s. (1)(b) of the Act. The 1861 Act was amended accordingly. It should be noted however that after the last such execution in 1956 the sentence of death was commuted to one of life imprisonment in every case.

16

In 1990 provision was made by law for the full abolition of the death penalty for murder, and other offences. Section 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990 provided that no person should suffer death for any offence. As stated at the outset s. 2 of that Act makes provision for a mandatory life sentence for the offence of murder. Section 4 of the same Act requires the Court, when passing sentence in relation to certain types of murder, referred to in s. 3 of that Act, to specify that the minimum period of imprisonment to be served in such cases will not be less than 40 years. Again the types of murder referred to in the latter category include the murder of a member of the Garda Siochana or prison officer in the course of his or her duty.

17

The Constitution, although it did not provide for the imposition of the death penalty, implicitly recognized, until its amendment in 2001, that the death penalty could be imposed in certain cases. Article 13.6 of the Constitution vested in the President the right of pardon and the power to commute or remit punishment imposed by any court exercising criminal jurisdiction and also provided that such powers could also be conferred by law on other authorities "except in capital cases". Article 40.5 made special provision for the deferral of a death sentence where the Court had made an order pursuant to Article 40 for the production of the body of a person who was in detention and under sentence of death, so that the lawfulness of the detention could be considered by the Court.

18

The Twenty First Amendment of the Constitution Act 2001 provided for the removal of all references to the death penalty in the Constitution and inserted in the Constitution Article 15.5.2 which now provides:

"The Oireachtas shall not enact any law providing for the imposition of the death penalty".

19

That amendment was approved in a referendum and the position now is that, after the total abolition and prohibition of the imposition of the death penalty, the only sentence which a court may impose on a person convicted of the crime of murder is life imprisonment.

Temporary Release
20

Every person serving a sentence for the commission of a crime, including those serving a life sentence, may be granted temporary release, subject to conditions. Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1960, as amended by the Criminal Justice (Temporary Release of Prisoners) Act 2003 confers on the Minister the discretionary power to grant such temporary release and provides as follows:

21

2 "2.(1) The Minister may direct that such person as is specified in the direction (being a person who is serving a sentence of imprisonment) shall be released from prison for such temporary period, and subject to such conditions, as may be specified in the direction or rules under this section applying to that person-

22

(a) for the purpose of-

23

(i) assessing the person's ability to reintegrate into society upon such release,

24

(ii) preparing him for release upon the expiration of his sentence of imprisonment, or upon his being discharged from prison before such expiration, or

25

(iii) assisting the Garda Síochána in the prevention, detection or investigation of offences, or the apprehension of a person guilty of an offence or suspected of having committed an offence,

26

(b) where there exist circumstances that, in the opinion of the Minister, justify his temporary release on-

27

(i) grounds of health, or

28

(ii) other humanitarian grounds,

29

(c) where, in the opinion of the Minister, it is necessary or expedient in order to-

30

(i) ensure the good government of the prison concerned, or

31

(ii) maintain good order in, and humane and just management of, the prison concerned, or

32

(d) where the Minister is of the opinion that the person has been rehabilitated and would, upon being released, be capable of reintegrating into society.

33

(2) The Minister shall, before giving a direction under this section, have regard to-

34

(a) the nature...

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