Peter Pringle v Ireland and The Attorney General

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMs. Justice Ní Raifeartaigh
Judgment Date18 May 2022
Neutral Citation[2022] IECA 113
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
Docket NumberCourt of Appeal Record Number: 2020/87
Between/
Peter Pringle
Plaintiff/Appellant
and
Ireland and The Attorney General
Defendant/Respondent

[2022] IECA 113

Ní Raifeartaigh J.

Power J.

Binchy J.

Court of Appeal Record Number: 2020/87

THE COURT OF APPEAL

CIVIL

Negligence – Breach of constitutional rights – Inordinate and inexcusable delay – Appellant appealing against a decision dismissing proceedings on the grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay – Whether the respondents would be legally entitled to adduce evidence with a view to establishing the appellant’s involvement in the events the subject of the criminal trial and in respect of which his conviction was quashed

Facts: The appellant, Mr Pringle, commenced a set of proceedings in 1995 seeking damages for negligence and breach of constitutional rights arising from the non-disclosure of information. He also initiated an earlier set of proceedings in 1992. These were very wide in scope as drafted and traversed much of the same ground as a criminal appeal. Their scope was greatly reduced (by court order) so that this claim was concerned with the lawfulness of the sentence as imposed and subsequently served by him. The respondents, Ireland and the Attorney General, brought a motion to dismiss for delay. The High Court dismissed the proceedings on grounds of delay. The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal against that decision. At the heart of the application was the question of whether or not the respondents would be legally entitled to adduce evidence with a view to establishing the appellant’s involvement in the events of July 1980, the very events the subject of the criminal trial and in respect of which his conviction was quashed. The appellant maintained that the presumption of innocence prevented the respondents from doing so; the respondents maintained that it did not. This in turn was highly relevant to the prejudice alleged by the respondents, because they contended that they required a large pool of witnesses and that many of those witnesses were no longer available by reason of the appellant’s delay.

Held by Ní Raifeartaigh J that the appellant was responsible for inordinate and inexcusable delay in progressing both sets of proceedings after 2003. In circumstances where she could not rule definitively on the scope of the pleadings/parameters of the trial, she could not reach appropriate conclusions on the prejudice issue. She also found herself hampered in assessing the degree of prejudice even on an alternative view of the case, namely a version of the case/trial which was narrower than that asserted by the respondents. She did not consider that the balance of justice was to dismiss the proceedings. She set aside the order of the High Court and remitted the motion to the High Court so that it may be adjudicated upon at some future point in time but only after two further events have taken place: (1) there has been full argument followed by a court ruling upon the scope of the proceedings, including in particular a ruling on whether the respondents are entitled to put the appellant’s guilt in issue in the proceedings (including related matters such as the burden of proof); and (2) the respondents have addressed by affidavit the prejudice that they would suffer by reason of the appellant’s delay if the case were to run on the narrower version i.e. without the question of guilt/innocence being within it. She would leave it to the High Court and the parties to choose the appropriate mechanisms (such as motions and/or trial of preliminary issue) by which they think these issues could be addressed.

Ní Raifeartaigh J held that the second set of proceedings (the “Chancery” proceedings) must remain within the parameters of the relevant court order of Murphy J and as such concerned matters of pure law. Notwithstanding the inordinate and inexcusable delay, Ní Raifeartaigh J would allow the appeal in respect of those proceedings also.

Appeal allowed.

UNAPPROVED
NO REDACTION NEEDED

JUDGMENT of the Ms. Justice Ní Raifeartaigh delivered on the 18th day of May, 2022.

INTRODUCTION

- 4 -

PART I: EVENTS AND PROCEEDINGS 1980–2016

- 6 -

JULY 1980: CAPITAL MURDER AND ROBBERY AT BALLAGHADERREEN, COUNTY ROSCOMMON

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1980–1981: TRIAL IN THE SPECIAL CRIMINAL COURT AND THE UNSUCCESSFUL APPEAL

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JANUARY 1992: THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE CHANCERY PROCEEDINGS AND THEIR PROGRESS UNTIL 2001

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1994–97: THE PROCEEDINGS UNDER THE CRIMINAL PROCEDURE ACT 1993: THE APPLICATION TO QUASH CONVICTION AND THE SUBSEQUENT APPLICATION FOR A “MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE” CERTIFICATE

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21 June 1994–16 May 1995: The s.2 application and the quashing of the conviction

- 9 -

The s.9 application for a certificate of miscarriage of justice

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DECEMBER 1995: THE COMMENCEMENT OF A SECOND SET OF PLENARY PROCEEDINGS (THE “NEGLIGENCE PROCEEDINGS”) AND THE PROGRESS OF THOSE PROCEEDINGS UNTIL 2001

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The statement of claim in the 1995 (negligence) proceedings

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The defence in the 1995 (negligence) proceedings

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The Reply delivered by the appellant

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Amended Defence

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2002/2003: THE SERVICE OF THE EVANS REPORT AND THE ADJOURNMENT OF BOTH SETS OF PROCEEDINGS

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2010: The appellant seeks details of the DNA testing by letter

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PART II: THE MOTION TO DISMISS FOR DELAY AND THE EVIDENCE BEFORE THE COURT ON THAT MOTION

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MAY 2016: THE MOTION FOR DISCOVERY AND THE MOTION TO DISMISS FOR DELAY

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The discovery motion issued by the appellant

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The motion to dismiss for want of prosecution issued by the respondents

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THE AFFIDAVIT EVIDENCE IN THE MOTION TO DISMISS FOR DELAY

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The affidavit of Therese Guerin, CSSO

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The affidavit of the appellant's solicitor

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The affidavit of the appellant dated the 3 April 2017

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The affidavit of Owen Wilson, office of the Chief State Solicitor

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The affidavit of the appellant dated 11 September 2017

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The affidavit of Sean McDermott dated 8 November 2017

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PART III: THE HIGH COURT JUDGMENT AND THE SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

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3 DECEMBER 2019: THE HIGH COURT JUDGMENT

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THE APPEAL

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OUTLINE OF THE SUBMISSIONS OF THE PARTIES

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The appellant's submissions

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The respondents' submissions

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PART V: ANALYSIS AND DECISION

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General principles to be applied

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The role of the Court in this appeal

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The principles to be applied in a “delay” case

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THE NEGLIGENCE PROCEEDINGS

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The first question: Was there inordinate and inexcusable delay on the part of the appellant in progressing his negligence proceedings?

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The period up until the service of the Evans Report in January 2003

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The period 2003-2016

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The Second question: the balance of justice

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The gravity of the overall context

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Reputational issues

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The question of prejudice

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The scope of the negligence proceedings as it appears from the pleadings

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Issue 1: The parameters of the case as disclosed by the pleadings

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Issue 2: The potential impact of the presumption of innocence on the scope of the trial

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An alternative scenario; trying to assess prejudice on the basis of a narrower view of the parameters of the case

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THE BALANCE OF JUSTICE IN RELATION TO THE NEGLIGENCE CLAIM

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THE CHANCERY PROCEEDINGS

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SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS

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Introduction
1

. This is an appeal against a decision of the High Court dismissing two sets of proceedings initiated by the appellant, in 1992 and 1995 respectively, on the grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay. The following is a very brief outline of the circumstances of this unique case.

2

. The appellant was convicted of capital murder and robbery in 1981, and unsuccessfully appealed in 1981. He served almost fifteen years in prison before his conviction was quashed in 1995 on an application pursuant to s.2 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1993, on the basis that a newly-discovered fact rendered the conviction unsafe. This Act will be referred to hereafter as “ the 1993 Act”. A retrial was ordered but did not proceed as the DPP entered a nolle prosequi. As was the normal practice, the DPP did not give reasons for doing so.

3

. The appellant then brought an application pursuant to s.9 of the 1993 Act for a certificate from the Court of Criminal Appeal stating that there had been a miscarriage of justice. He was unsuccessful in this regard. The court was not satisfied that he had positively demonstrated that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice; it said that it had quashed the conviction because the evidence demonstrated the risk that the conviction was unsafe, but that the evidence did not go so far as to demonstrate that the appellant was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the appellant complained that this approach violated the presumption of innocence but the Supreme Court upheld the conclusion of the Court of Criminal Appeal. It remitted the case back to the Court of Criminal Appeal to enable the appellant to adduce such further evidence as he wished, in order to prove that he was a victim of a miscarriage of justice. The judgment of the Supreme Court was delivered in 1997. The appellant did not avail of this opportunity to continue to pursue his application for a s.9 certificate under the 1993 Act but instead chose to proceed with other proceedings he had initiated.

4

. One of these was a set of proceedings he had commenced in 1995 seeking damages for negligence and breach of constitutional rights arising...

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