People (Attorney-General) v Quinn

JurisdictionIreland
CourtSupreme Court
Judgment Date18 Dec 1965

Court of Criminal Appeal.

Supreme Court.

The People (Attorney General) v. Quinn.
THE PEOPLE (at the Suit of the ATTORNEY GENERAL)
and
MICHAEL QUINN (1)

Criminal law - Trial - Irregularity - Manslaughter - Self-defence - Onus of proof - Character of accused not put in issue - Questions put in cross-examination - Observations by trial judge in charge to jury - Conversation between juryman and accused on a matter relating to the trial - Effect on trial.

Criminal Appeal.

Application for leave to appeal by the accused, Michael Quinn, from the refusal of the trial Judge ( Ó Briain ó briain J.) to grant a certificate to allow an appeal.

The appellant was charged with the manslaughter of one, Sean Berkery. The charge arose out of an incident between the appellant and the deceased, who were close friends. On the evening of the 19th May, 1962, they had had a number of drinks together in licensed premises and then left the premises together, apparently to walk home. They were observed to be on good terms while in the licensed premises but on the way home an altercation arose between them in the course of which the appellant struck the deceased a blow with his fist on the face which broke the deceased's upper denture and which caused him to fall to the ground. His skull was fractured by the fall and he died on the following day. At the trial the appellant stated that on the way home on the evening in question the deceased accused him, in effect, of stealing a fork belonging to one, Michael Burke, and that the appellant had told the deceased that he had Burke's permission to take it; that he then sought to leave the deceased but that the deceased held his arm to detain him, aimed a blow at him with his fist which he, the appellant, avoided and then replied by delivering the blow which resulted in the deceased's death and which, the appellant maintained, was delivered in self-defence. Prior to the death of the deceased the appellant had made a statement in which he gave the same account, save that he made no mention of the deceased having held his arm to detain him. At his trial the appellant maintained that he had struck one blow and that that was in self-defence. The trial took place before the President of the Circuit Court ( Ó Briain ó briain J.) and a jury on Friday, 18th January, 1963, and concluded the following day when the appellant was found guilty and was put back in custody until Tuesday, 22nd January, for sentence. On the morning of the 22nd January, before the trial Judge proceeded to pass sentence, counsel for the appellant brought to the Judge's attention the fact that shortly after 4 p.m., on the 18th January, when the trial had been adjourned, one of the jurymen, in company with a witness who had just given evidence, when leaving the court-house building, had stopped in front of the appellant, who was standing with his brother and sister, and said to him:—"You should have objected to that jury. Do you know who I am?", to which the appellant replied:—"Yes." The juror continued:—"I am Michael Vaughan. Did you not hear the address, O'Brien's Bridge?" The appellant's sister then said:—"You should not be talking to us at all. Did you not hear what the judge said?" Nothing further was said and the juror and witness then left the courthouse. Counsel for the appellant applied to the trial Judge to arrest judgment and to direct a new trial on the grounds that the matters complained of constituted an irregularity. The trial Judge expressed the view that he was bound by the verdict of the jury and had no jurisdiction to do other than to pass sentence, and he thereupon sentenced the appellant to twelve months' imprisonment. Upon the application of counsel for the appellant the trial Judge granted a certificate that the case was a fit case for appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal upon the grounds 1, that the Court, after the jury had delivered their verdict and been discharged, should have received evidence of alleged irregularity;

2, That, had the Court heard such evidence and accepted it, the Court should have granted an arrest of judgment;

3, That, had the Court heard such evidence and accepted it, the Court should have ordered a re-trial.

The notice of appeal, in addition to the grounds set out upon the certificate granted by the trial Judge, included,inter alia, a ground that the trial Judge had misdirected the jury as to the onus of proof in a case of self-defence and had failed to give the jury a proper explanation of self-defence, and a further ground that the trial Judge had failed to explain that mens rea was an essential part of the crime of manslaughter.

In the course of his charge to the jury the trial Judge, in dealing with the question of self-defence, quoted from Archbold's Criminal Pleadings the following passage from the judgment of Lindley J. in R. v. Knock(1):—". . . . if a man attacks me, I am entitled to defend myself, and the difficulty arises in drawing the line between mere self-defence and fighting. The test is this: a man defending himself does not want to fight, and defends himself solely to avoid fighting. Then, supposing a man attacks me and I defend myself, not intending or desiring to fight, but still fighting—in one sense— to defend myself, and I knock him down and thereby unintentionally kill him, that killing is accidental." The trial Judge, continuing his charge, said:—"I mention that because on this question of self-defence the judge has to direct the jury as to what it means. It is quite sufficient if you have a reasonable doubt whether this was a case of self-defence or not. If so, you are entitled to acquit the accused, but the State makes the case contrary, that there is no such evidence in this case; that viewing the evidence as a whole this is the case of a man going home with another man and because of a few words over a fork the man who was killed grabbed the accused and made a blow at him which apparently was not delivered; that he then received a heavy blow which struck him to the ground and resulted in his death. The case for the prosecution is that there is no question of self-defence. They must satisfy you it was manslaughter. The defence need not satisfy you if it was self-defence, if you have a real doubt about it. The State says that you should have no doubt." Later in his charge the trial Judge said:—"The real question here, I should think, is first of all this question of self-defence. Ask yourselves are you satisfied this blow was struck and that this blow killed Sean Berkery? Are you satisfied it was not lawful or justified that night before the blow was struck?" He also said:—"It [the taking of life] can be justified in certain circumstances and particularly, . . . in certain cases of self-defence. I think that is the real question here because I don't think there has been too much conflict between the two sides as to what happened. Mr. Kinlen says you must have a reasonable doubt on this question of self-defence but the State say you should have no doubt—that this was unwarranted." Subsequently the trial

Judge said:—". . . . if you have any doubt that accused struck the blow which caused the fracture, or if you are not sure, acquit him. If you are satisfied he struck the blow and that nothing Sean Berkery did that night justified it you will convict him. . . . . The legality of the blow cannot be justified at all on any ground except self-defence and that is put forward for the defence. The defence does not have to prove that as a matter of certainty and I have only to tell you again there is only one count." The charge concluded at this point.

Earlier in his charge the trial Judge, in directing the jury on the issue of manslaughter, said:—"You must be satisfied that Michael Quinn unlawfully killed . . . Sean Berkery. Malice in the sense of intent is completely out of the case. If there was any suggestion that he intended to kill Sean Berkery the charge would be one of murder. . . . in the case of manslaughter death is not intended; it is done accidentally. . . . There is no suggestion in this case that the accused intended to kill Sean Berkery. The case for the prosecution is that he did kill him without lawful authority. There is no doubt that the man in the dock did kill Sean Berkery. . . . The question is did he do it unlawfully . . . . Manslaughter means killing another person without intending to kill him but without any lawful excuse. The onus of proving that is on the State. Accused need not prove his innocence and if you have a reasonable doubt such as you would act upon in your own affairs give him the benefit of that doubt. . . . Are you satisfied this was an unlawful killing or do you take the view it was justified or may have been justified?"

The appellant also objected to observations of the trial Judge in relation to the evidence of certain witnesses. These observations were made in respect of the evidence of a witness, Seamus Byrne, who had been in the licensed premises with the appellant and who had left the premises at about the same time as the appellant and the deceased. Referring to the evidence of this witness the trial Judge said:—"Witness went in the Limerick direction and he heard a kind of a thud twenty or thirty yards from the cross-roads. It struck me there was more to it than the witness actually expressed, that there was more than a stroke, but possibly you will be able to judge what happened." Speaking of the evidence of another witness, James Rainsford, he said to the jury:—"James Rainsford, the next witness, was in the bar with the others and he says he left and was first up the road. 'I heard a thud and ran back,' and I venture to suggest when you are dealing with this case, I venture to suggest there was something more."

The appellant did not put his character in issue, but during his cross-examination he was asked:—"And you are generally known as a pretty tough man?" It was submitted that this...

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    ...minds of the jury as to whether the accused had acted in self-defence, they must acquit. Thus, in The People (Attorney General) v Quinn [1965] I.R. 366, this Court held that it would be a misdirection to tell a jury that the defence had to 'establish' the defence of self-defence in such a ......
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