High Court reporters
Despite a failure in the Gardaí's investigative role, a man’s trial for rape was not unfair and his conviction stands, the Supreme Court has held.
At his trial in the Central Criminal Court, the man’s defence was that any sexual contact between himself and the complainant was consensual.
Among the evidence at the trial was the woman’s testimony, forensic evidence from the sexual assault treatment unit and text messages from the man to the woman shortly after the incident, which included one in which he described himself as a “stupid man” and asked for her forgiveness, the Supreme Court said.
The Court of Appeal (CoA) dismissed his conviction appeal, but determined that gardaí should have sought out evidence from the woman’s co-worker and his girlfriend, as they had accompanied her to the Garda station when she made a statement the day after the rape.
However, during the appeal, the man had a duty to engage with the prosecution’s case to identify how the missing evidence might have assisted his defence, the court held.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear a further appeal to consider whether the man’s trial was unfair due to the failure to collect evidence from the pair. The court noted the defence had not been told the woman was accompanied to the Garda station.
The man argued that as the co-worker and his girlfriend were the only potential witnesses as to the woman’s state of mind following the alleged attack, he was deprived of a potential useful line of defence as to the woman’s credibility and consistency.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) submitted that gardaí failed in their duty to collect evidence from the couple, but this did not cause an unfairness at trial.
Delivering judgment for a five-judge Supreme Court, Ms Justice Marie Baker held that the duty to seek out and preserve evidence, and to disclose it to defendants, is “central to, and supports, fair trial rights and goes some way to redressing the imbalance between prosecution and defence in the light of the powers of the gardaí to investigate and collect evidence”.
Prosecution authorities, she said, have a duty to take reasonable and proportionate steps to search out and preserve evidence and relevant material must be disclosed to the accused as a matter of constitutional fairness.
She agreed with the CoA that there was a failure by gardaí to seek out and preserve evidence to properly protect, respect and support the fair trial rights of the accused. She disagreed with the court’s finding that a test of “engagement” with the prosecution’s case should be imposed on him, as this would be unfair, she said.
The appellate court must assess the fairness of the trial as a whole, what role the absent evidence could have played, and whether there was a chance of a lost acquittal.
The failure in this case did not cause a trial unfairness for a variety of reasons, she said.
Ms Justice Baker said any evidence gathered from the two accompaniers would have been admissible only in limited circumstances and only to show consistency with the testimony of the complainant.
There was significant evidence other than that offered by the woman herself which could ground the man’s conviction, the judge added.
Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley and Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe agreed with the judgment and decision to dismiss the appeal.