Judgment Title: P.T. -v- DPP
Composition of Court: Denham J., Geoghegan J., Macken J.
Judgment by: Denham J.
Status of Judgment: Approved
THE SUPREME COURT
[S.C. No: 179/2006]Denham J.
The Director of Public Prosecutions
Respondent/AppellantJudgment delivered the 31st day of July, 2007 by Denham J.
This is an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the respondent/appellant, hereinafter referred to as 'the D.P.P.', from a judgment of the High Court (Dunne J.) delivered on the 21st day of March, 2006.
2. P.T., the applicant/respondent, and hereinafter referred to as 'the applicant', was born on 1st November, 1920. He was returned for trial on twenty eight charges of indecent assault contrary to common law and to s.6 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935. The offences alleged were committed many years ago.
3. The applicant obtained leave from the High Court on 10th January, 2005 to apply by way of judicial review for an order of prohibition, or injunction, restraining the D.P.P. from taking any further steps in the proceedings. The grounds upon which such leave was granted were:-
1. There has been a breach of the constitutional right of the applicant to a trial with due course of law in that the D.P.P. is continuing a prosecution in which there is a serious risk of an unfair trial, for a number of reasons:
(a) The lapse of time between the dates of the alleged offences (said to have occurred between 1st April, 1965 and 1st September, 1970) and the return for trial of the 12th October, 2004 is more than 34 years and up to 39 years.
(b) The D.P.P. has breached the constitutional rights of the applicant to fair procedures in that the D.P.P. has failed or refused, in respect of the criminal proceedings the subject matter of this application:
(i) to disclose material information to the applicant.
(ii) to furnish material documents to the applicant.
(iii) to investigate material matters or cause them to be investigated.
(a) the vague and unspecific nature of the criminal charges against the applicant in the criminal proceedings the subject matter of this application;
(b) the advanced age of the applicant who is 84 years of age having been born on the 1st November, 1920.
(c) the stress, anxiety and prejudice caused as a consequence of the within allegations, including removal from active ministry as a Roman Catholic priest.
3. The constitutional right of the applicant to trial with due expedition is breached in that the D.P.P. has been guilty of prosecutorial delay in that he delayed in a number of respects:
(a) caused and/or permitted a lapse of time of over 2 years between the apparent reception of the complaint against the applicant of the alleged victim and the first appearance of the applicant in court on foot of a valid summons to answer the charge on the 28th September, 2004.
(b) caused and/or permitted a lapse of time of 21 months between the questioning of the applicant in relation to the offence (8th December, 2002) and his first appearance in court on foot of a valid summons on the 28th September, 2004).
4. The High Court considered the delay prior to the making of the complaint. The High Court held that there was a reasonable explanation for the delay by the complainant prior to making the complaint. This finding reflected the earlier jurisprudence.
5. The High Court proceeded to consider delay subsequent to the making of the complaint. The submitted delay ranged from 29th May, 2002, when the complaint was notified to An Garda Siochána by the church authorities, and 28th September, 2004, approximately 28 months later. The learned High Court judge stated that it seemed there had been a lack of urgency in bringing matters to a stage when the applicant could be charged with the alleged offences. The High Court held:-
In the circumstances, it seems to me that I have to accept the submission that the delay of 28 months post complaint is unacceptable and that it has had the effect of breaching the applicant’s right to a trial with due expedition. In the circumstances, I have no option but to grant the relief sought herein."
1. The learned trial judge erred in law and in fact holding that there had been blameworthy prosecutorial delay on the part of the prosecuting authorities in bringing the applicant to trial.
2. The learned trial judge erred in law and in fact in holding that blameworthy prosecutorial delay of its own entitled the applicant to the relief sought.
3. The learned trial judge erred in law and in fact in holding that there had been a breach of the applicant's right to an expeditious trial.
8. The Court, as it has done in similar cases where the jurisprudence was re-stated during the time between the delivery of the High Court judgment and the hearing of the appeal, took a flexible approach to the issues argued. This approach was adopted to ensure fairness to the parties.
9. The submissions to the Court on the appeal were net. Sunniva McDonagh, B.L., counsel on behalf of the D.P.P., stated that reliance would be placed on H. v. The Director of Public Prosecutions  3 IR 575 and P.M. v Director of Public Prosecutions  3 IR 172. Counsel submitted that there was no blameworthy prosecutorial delay, that in this case there were particular reasons to proceed carefully and cautiously in preparing the prosecution papers, that it was not a simple investigation.
10. Counsel referred to the unfortunate error in that the original summonses were for the wrong District, but pointed out that they were withdrawn and issued for the correct District, and that the Book of Evidence was then ready to be served. It was submitted that there was no prosecutorial delay.
11. However, it was submitted, if the Court found that there was prosecutorial delay, it was required then to do a balancing exercise. There was no imprisonment or prejudice arising from such delay, it was submitted. It was submitted that while it was originally a ground of the applicant's case that there was stress and anxiety arising from the delay, it was now submitted that the stress would arise from being put on trial. Counsel submitted that that was a matter for the learned trial judge. As to the stress alleged from his resigning from church ministry, it was submitted that the applicant was removed from ministry when the complainant went to the Church authorities and before any formal complaint, that as his removal from ministry was prior to the formal complaint, it was not related to any alleged delay in the prosecution of the offences. Further, that the applicant is now past retirement age so the issue of removal from ministry is not so relevant. Counsel addressed the issue of stress from 2002 to date. Counsel also addressed the issue of the effect of the stress of a trial on the applicant, and reference was made to O'B. v. Director of Public Prosecutions [Unreported, ex-tempore judgment, the Supreme Court, Hardiman J. 5th February, 2007], and J.K. v. Director of Public Prosecutions  IESC 56, and distinguished them from the facts of this case.
12. Mr Paul Coffey, S.C. counsel on behalf of the applicant, accepted that the grounds of the cross-appeal as filed no longer arose because of the restatement of the law in H. v. The Director of Public Prosecutions  3 IR 575. Counsel submitted that the events in issue were very remote, being between 37 and 42 years ago; that when the Church authorities told An Garda Síochána in May, 2002 of the allegations, there was an interval of 28 months before the applicant was charged and returned for trial; he addressed the issues of the age of the applicant and the physical health of the applicant. He submitted that the applicant was entitled to succeed because there had been an infringement of his right to an expeditious trial, or, in the alternative, that it was unfair to put the applicant on trial.
13. Law relevant to this appeal has been clarified in two recent cases.
(i) In H. v. The Director of Public Prosecutions  3 IR 575 the test to be applied to determine if there would be a fair trial was described as being whether there is a real or serious risk that the applicant, by reason of the delay, would not obtain a fair trial, or that a trial would be unfair as a consequence of the delay. The test is to be applied in light of all the circumstances of the case. However, I shall return to this decision later in the judgment.
(ii) The second important area of case law relates to prosecutorial delay. In P.M. v. Malone  2 IR 560 Keane C.J. referred to the balancing exercise required of the court in situations where prosecutorial delay is alleged. He stated:-
In P.M. v The Director of Public Prosecutions,  3 IR 174, Kearns J. stated:-
15. However, that is not the end of the matter. It is appropriate to consider the 'exceptional circumstances' referred to in H. v. The Director of Public Prosecutions  3 IR 575. In H. v. The Director of Public Prosecutions it was stated, at p.622:-
This is a test based on 'wholly exceptional circumstances', which are essentially fact based and thus previous cases are of limited value as precedents. It is necessary when analysing this aspect of the test to consider the particular facts of a case, and to determine whether it would be unfair or unjust to put that specific accused on trial in all the circumstances of the case.
In this case relevant factors include:-
(1) It is an old case, i.e. the allegations related to events between 37 and 42 years ago;
(2) Consequently, it has the features of an old case;
(3) There was an interval of time between the Church authorities being told of the allegations, the formal complaint, the charging of the applicant, and the return for trial;
(4) The applicant is in his old age, he will be 87 years old in the autumn;
(5) The charges have had a detrimental effect on the life of the applicant, because of the nature of the charges.
(6) The health of the applicant.
As to the health of the applicant, Dr John Kenny, consultant cardiologist, deposed, inter alia, of the applicant:-
"5. At present he is quite short of breath on pretty minimal exertion and has great difficulty in moving around. When I last saw him on 21/12/06 he had heart failure but his heart failure is well controlled on his medication. He also suffers quite a bit from stress and given the unstable nature of his cardiac condition I feel that the stress associated with a criminal trial could have a major affect on his health and possibly precipitate heart failure or acute myocardial infarction."
16. It is important to note to what this decision does not relate. The applicant has not discharged the onus of establishing on the balance of probabilities that he has been prejudiced by the delay to such an extent that there is a real or serious risk of an unfair trial. Nor has the applicant discharged the onus of establishing that there has been prosecutorial delay as described in law by P.M. v. Malone and P.M. v The Director of Public Prosecutions.
17. In issue is the exception referred to in H. v. The Director of Public Prosecutions: whether it would be unfair or unjust to put the applicant on trial. Thus the relevant factors require to be identified and then a balancing exercise undertaken by the court.
In this case the factors relevant to the applicant's position are: (i) it is an old case, while this is not unusual in such a prosecution, it is a factor, (ii) the applicant is elderly, in his 87th year, and, (iii) the ill-health of the applicant.
18. On the other hand, the factors relevant to the prosecution require to be considered. There is the public nature of criminal law. Prosecutions are taken on behalf of the People of Ireland by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The court does not interfere lightly with a decision of the Director. As I stated in D.C. v D.P.P.  4 IR 281:-
"Such an application [for the prohibition of a trial] may only succeed in exceptional circumstances. The Constitution and the State, through legislation, have given to the Director of Public Prosecutions an independent role in determining whether or not a prosecution should be brought on behalf of the People of Ireland. The Director having taken such a decision the courts are slow to intervene. Under the Constitution it is for a jury of twelve peers of the applicant to determine whether he is guilty or innocent. However, bearing in mind the duty of the courts to protect the constitutional rights of all persons, in exceptional circumstances the court will intervene and prohibit a trial.
In general such a step is not necessary as the trial judge maintains at all times the duty to ensure due process and a fair trial. The basic assumption to apply in relation to all pending trials is that they will be conducted fairly, under the presiding judge."
Factors may exist, or may develop after a decision has been made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, which would render a trial unjust. The issue in this case is whether such an exception has occurred. In this balancing exercise the court must give consideration to the right of the public to have crimes prosecuted. This is not an absolute, for prosecutions are taken when they are in the public interest. It is part of a justice system which is for the common good, which includes consideration of the constitutional requirement of due process. A prosecution is not an exercise in vengeance. While a court should give careful regard to the position of victims, it must protect the integrity of the justice system as a whole.
19. No single factor renders this case an exception. This decision does not mean that a person may not be prosecuted for a crime committed many years ago, nor that a person in their eighties may not be prosecuted, nor that a person with ill-health may not be prosecuted. It is the cumulative effect of all the factors which bring this case within the category of an exception requiring a balancing exercise to be conducted by the court. Of specific importance is that it is an old case, that the prosecution took some time to mount (I am not finding that there was prosecutorial delay but merely recording the fact of the time lapse), that the applicant is an elderly man, in his 87th year, and that he is in bad health.
20. It demeans a system of justice if its process is one of vengeance, or has such a perception. It evokes concepts of primitive jurisprudence. The People of Ireland under the Constitution require that there be due process in the justice system. The courts are required to protect the integrity of that system, which may mean that in exceptional circumstances a prosecution should be restrained. It is a question of proportionality.
21. In all if the circumstances of this case I am satisfied that it is an exception as envisaged in H. v. The Director of Public Prosecutions and I would restrain the trial.
22. For all these reasons I would dismiss the appeal.