The People (Director of Public Prosecutions) v Heffernan

JudgeMs. Justice O'Malley,Mr Justice Peter Charleton
Judgment Date07 February 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] IESC 5
CourtSupreme Court
Docket Number[S.C. No. 3 of 2016],[Supreme Court Appeal No. 03/2016] [High Court Bill No CC 84/11] Supreme Court appeal number: 2015 no 000003 [2016] IESC 000 Court of Appeal record number: 2013 no 165 [2015] IECA 310 Central Criminal Court: Bill no .....
Date07 February 2017

[2017] IESC 5

O'Malley J.

Charleton J.

O'Donnell J.

Clarke J.

MacMenamin J.

Laffoy J.

Dunne J.

Charleton J.

O'Malley J.

[Supreme Court Appeal No. 03/2016]

[Court of Appeal No: 165/2013]

[High Court Bill No CC 84/11]

Supreme Court appeal number: 2015 no 000003

[2016] IESC 000

Court of Appeal record number: 2013 no 165

[2015] IECA 310

Central Criminal Court: Bill no .....


An Chuirt Uachtarach

Crime & sentencing – Murder – Defence of diminished responsibility – Burden of proof – Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, 2006

Facts: The appellant was convicted of murder in 2013. He sought to appeal his conviction to the Court of Appeal but his appeal was refused. He was subsequently granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court on whether s 6 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, 2006 had been correctly interpreted.

Held by Ms Justice O'Malley, that the appeal would be dismissed. Ms Justice O'Malley reviewed the Irish and UK jurisprudence as well as Canadian case law and was satisfied that the Oireachtas had specifically intended to impose a burden of proof on the defence. Further, this intention did not serve to affect the presumption of innocence of the accused in cases where diminished responsibility was pleaded.

JUDGMENT of Ms. Justice O'Malley delivered the 7th day of February 2017.

This appeal concerns the burden and standard of proof in a case where a person charged with murder seeks to rely on the defence of diminished responsibility created by s.6(2) of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, 2006. The Act requires an accused to ' establish' that, by virtue of the section, he or she is ' not liable to be convicted' of murder. The appellant sought to rely upon this provision but was, on the 26th June, 2013, convicted of the murder of Mr. Eoin Ryan on the 7th June, 2011. An appeal to the Court of Appeal was unsuccessful. He was subsequently granted leave to appeal to this Court on the question whether the section had been correctly interpreted. In summary, the appellant contends that the burden imposed on the defence by the Act should be construed as requiring him only to raise a reasonable doubt as to his liability to be convicted of murder, and that he was incorrectly held to have been obliged to prove on the balance of probabilities that his responsibility was diminished by reason of the matters set out in the legislation.


There is no dispute about the facts of the case and the appeal was presented on the basis of the following agreed summary rather than by reference to the transcript.

'The appellant was convicted of murder after a nine day trial in the Central Criminal Court before the Honourable Mr. Justice McCarthy. It was common case during the trial that on the 7th day of June, 2011 in Cappabeg, Barefield, Ennis he unlawfully caused the death of the deceased, Mr. Eoin Ryan. The main issues in the trial therefore related to whether he intended to kill or cause serious injury to the deceased or whether he was not guilty by reason of insanity, or guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility pursuant to sections 5 and 6 of the Criminal Justice (Insanity) Act, 2006, respectively.

The facts leading up to the death of the deceased were that on the evening of the 6th June, 2011 the deceased was drinking with friends in Cruises bar in Ennis, where he met the appellant and they had a brief conversation. Without saying goodbye to his friends the deceased left the bar and then shortly afterwards the appellant left also. At approximately 6 am the following morning the Gardaí received a phone call from the appellant stating that he had killed a man, that the devil was in him and that he came on to the appellant and he killed him.

Gardaí arrived to find the appellant in a distressed state and he brought [them] up into his field where he showed them a water barrel containing the remains of the deceased. Upon interview, the appellant accepted that he had killed the deceased but denied intending to kill a person, stating that the devil had taken over the deceased and it was only after he had beaten the deceased to death that the devil left him and he had realised what he had done to the young man. He then asserted that he had spoken to Jesus and Jesus told him to ring the Gardaí.

The appellant was seen initially by Dr. O'Mahony, a local consultant psychologist, who attended at the Garda station on the same day. He gave evidence that in his view the [appellant] was delusional and suffered from perceptional disturbance. The appellant was subsequently reviewed by Dr. Linehan, who gave evidence that there were discrepancies in his evidence and he gave inconsistent accounts between interviews.

The appellant was afforded the opportunity to prepare his own defence psychiatric report which he availed of but which was not ultimately relied upon at trial.'


This somewhat sparse information is amplified in the judgment of the Court of Appeal ( The People at the Suit of the Director of Public Prosecutions v. Joseph Heffernan [2015] IECA 310). It appears that both Dr. O'Mahony and Dr. Linehan were called by the prosecution and that the defence did not go into evidence.


Dr. O'Mahony said that, on the morning he saw him in the garda station, the appellant had a firmly held delusional belief that, rather than killing a man, he had done the world a service by removing the devil. He stated that the appellant had no insight, or an impaired insight, into the reason why he was arrested.


Dr. Linehan, who subsequently reviewed the appellant on behalf of the prosecution, pointed to certain inconsistencies in the appellant's accounts at interview with her. She said that she found no evidence of formal thought disorder. The results of one test suggested that he was exaggerating but not feigning his symptoms, and she considered that he did have symptoms of an adjustment disorder characterised by depressive symptoms following the death of his father. In relation to a possible diagnosis of schizophrenia, she said that some symptoms displayed by the appellant supported such a diagnosis, some were not inconsistent with it and some did not support it. Ultimately her opinion was that while he was suffering from a mental disorder within the meaning of the legislation, it was not such as would render him unable to refrain from committing the act. Nor was it such as would, in her opinion, substantially diminish his responsibility. Under cross-examination, she expressed the view that the killing was explicable by intoxication.


Two defences were left to the jury by the trial judge – diminished responsibility and, on the basis of Dr. Linehan's evidence, intoxication. On diminished responsibility, the defence made a formal application (in the knowledge that the Court of Criminal Appeal authority of The People (Director of Public Prosecutions) v. Smyth Snr. [2010] 3 I.R. 688 was against the proposition) that the jury should be told that that the legal burden cast on the defence under the Act was only to raise a reasonable doubt. The trial judge refused the application and directed the jury that it was a matter to be proved by the defence on the balance of probabilities. The appellant was convicted.

The legislation

For the purposes of this case it is necessary to consider certain of the provisions relating to the defence of insanity as well as diminished responsibility. The former is dealt with in s.5 of the Act, which provides in relevant part as follows:

'5. – (1) Where an accused person is tried for an offence and, in the case of the District Court or Special Criminal Court, the court or, in any other case, the jury finds that the accused person committed the act alleged against him or her and, having heard evidence relating to the mental condition of the accused given by a consultant psychiatrist, finds that –

(a) the accused person was suffering at the time from a mental disorder, and

(b) the mental disorder was such that the accused person ought not to be held responsible for the act alleged by reason of the fact that he or she –

(i) did not know the nature and quality of the act, or

(ii) did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong, or

(iii) was unable to refrain from committing the act,

the court or the jury, as the case may be, shall return a special verdict to the effect that the accused person is not guilty by reason of insanity.'


Section 5(4) reads as follows:

'(4) Where on a trial for murder the accused contends –

(a) that at the time of the alleged offence he or she was suffering from a mental disorder such that he or she ought to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, or

(b) that at that time he or she was suffering from a mental disorder specified in section 6(1)(c),

the court shall allow the prosecution to adduce evidence tending to prove the other of those contentions, and may give directions as to the stage of the proceedings at which the prosecution may address such evidence.'


A ' mental disorder', as defined in s.1, includes mental illness, mental disability, dementia or ' any disease of the mind'.


Section 6 is the provision that introduced into Irish law the concept of diminished responsibility. It does so in the following terms:

'6. – (1) Where a person is tried for murder and the jury or, as the case may be, the Special Criminal Court finds that the person –

(a) did the act alleged,

(b) was at the time suffering from a mental disorder, and

(c) the mental disorder was not such as to justify finding him or her not guilty by reason of insanity, but was such as to diminish substantially his or her responsibility for the act,

the jury or court, as the case may be, shall find...

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13 cases
  • The People (at the suit of the DPP) v Yusif Ali Abdi
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 30 May 2022
    ...or diminished responsibility must be demonstrated clearly in negativing the mental element of the offence; The People (DPP) v Heffernan [2017] 1 IR 82. Previously, in AG v Boylan [1937] I.R. 449 the Court of Criminal Appeal had ruled against liability due to insanity being absent where the ......
  • O'Byrne v DPP, Neville v DPP
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 30 October 2019
    ...courts with regard to evidential presumptions in recent years ( People (DPP) v. Smyth [2010] 3 IR 688, People (DPP) v. Heffernan [2017] 1 IR 82, DPP v. Forsey [2018] IESC 5) it seems to me that the presumption in s.38(1) places a legal burden upon the accused person to prove the relevant ......
  • DPP v Forsey
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 8 November 2018
    ...recent case in which this Court has considered the issue of a reverse onus was The People (Director of Public Prosecutions) v Heffernan [2017] 1 I.R. 82. It arose in relation to the statutory defence of diminished responsibility, introduced by s.6 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006. T......
  • DPP v Solowiow
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 14 February 2018
    ...recognition to this question? This remains a controversial issue. (See the recent observations of Charleton J. in DPP v. Heffernan [2017] 1 I.R. 82, at p.91, and the earlier remarks of O'Donnell J. in the Court of Criminal Appeal in The People (DPP) v. Curran [2011] 3 I.R. 785; also see L......
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