Saturday 23 September 2017

Catherine Nevin's murder conviction can be used as evidence in bid to disinherit her from husband's estate, court rules

Catherine Nevin
Catherine Nevin

Aodhan O'Faolain

Catherine Nevin’s conviction for the murder of her husband Tom can be used in a case aimed at stopping her inheriting any part of his estate, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

The decision clears the way for the full hearing before the High Court of civil proceedings by Tom Nevin’s brother and sister aimed at disinheriting Ms Nevin. They are also claiming damages against her for wrongful death.

Ms Nevin was jailed in 2000 after being convicted of her husband’s murder at their pub, Jack White’s Inn near Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, on March 19 1996. She later lost appeals against her conviction and failed to have it declared a miscarriage of justice.

Tom Nevin died without leaving a will. His assets included the pub, jointly owned with his wife which she sold in late 1997 for IR£620,000, two Dublin properties, a IR£78,000 insurance policy and cash of IR£197,000.

Patrick Nevin, Tynagh,  Loughrea, Co Galway, and Margaret Lavelle, Ballinaghran, Craughwell, Co Galway, had brought a preliminary application to the High Court seeking to admit evidence of Ms Nevin’s conviction as part of their disinheritance proceedings.

In a counter-claim, Ms Nevin, who denies she is guilty of her husband’s murder, claims she is entitled to her late husband’s assets, or part of them, by virtue of survivorship and the laws of intestacy.

In an affidavit to the High Court, Ms Nevin said she was quite happy to come to court and give evidence she had nothing to do with her husbands death.

The High Court in 2013 ruled the conviction was admissible in the civil case but solicitor Anne Fitzgibbon, for Ms Nevin, appealed.

The focus of the appeal was on the High Court determination, as a preliminary issue, that Ms Nevin’s conviction for her husband’s murder was admissible in civil proceedings as “prima facie evidence of the fact that she committed such murder”.

The three judge Court of Appeal on Tuesday dismissed the appeal. It found the High Court had correctly decided admission of the conviction involved an exception to the rule against admitting hearsay evidence which was justified on grounds of necessity and relevance.

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said the only issue for the appeal court in this application was whether  the  conviction was admissible as prima facie proof of Ms Nevin’s guilt of the murder of her husband.

The judge stressed the High Court finding that proof of a conviction for murder, with all appeals exhausted, does not of itself meet the proofs required by Section 120(1) of the Succession Act 1965 dealing with disinheritance,  should not be regarded as a final determination.

She said she disagreed with that High Court finding but stressed hers was not “a concluded view” because the proper construction of Section 120 (1) was not in issue before the Court of Appeal and had to be decided in the full High Court hearing.

There is a difference in the wording of Section 120 (1) and Section 120 (4) of the 1965 Act, she noted. 

Section 120 (1) provides a sane person who “has been guilty” of murder..shall be precluded from taking any share in the estate of that other.  Section 120 (4) provides a person who “found guilty” of an offence against the deceased punishable by imprisonment for a maximum period of at least two years shall be precluded taking any share in the estate as a legal right.

It was not easy to see why the Oireachtas chose that wording, she said.

If, at the full hearing, it is decided proof of Ms Nevin’s murder conviction does not meet the requirements of Section 120 (1), the question whether the High Court had correctly decided the conviction was admissible as prima facie evidence of the fact Ms Nevin was guilty of the murder may become relevant, she said.

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