Murder convictions quashed over judge's 'prejudicial' lecture
A JUDGE underestimated the impact of comments he made at an academic lecture, the Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) said yesterday as it outlined its reasons for quashing the murder convictions of two brothers.
Earlier this month, the CCA overturned the convictions of Warren and Jeffrey Dumbrell and ordered they be retried for the murder of Christopher Cawley, who was attacked and stabbed to death four years ago.
The court yesterday issued its reasons for that decision.
The CCA said Mr Justice Paul Carney, in a speech made at University College Cork, while he was also presiding over the trial of the Dumbrells, contained "prejudicial material".
This lead to a "reasonable apprehension" the brothers had not received a fair trial and rendered their convictions for murder unsafe.
Mr Justice Carney's controversial comments, on June 10, 2008, were widely circulated to the media at the time.
Chief Justice John Murray, delivering the CCA judgment, said this was intended to, and did, attract extensive publicity.
It also included statements on several issues relevant to the trial of the Dumbrell brothers, including fatal stabbings, knife crime and sentencing policy.
The address involved "trenchant and strong" statements germane to many aspects of the trial over which Mr Justice Carney was presiding and was likely to have made a "strong and enduring impression" on the jury, he said.
The CCA was satisfied the trial judge had not intended this and also underestimated the possible impact of his statements.
Having regard to all the circumstances, the CCA was satisfied that a reasonable person would have a reasonable apprehension that the judge's address may have consciously or unconsciously influenced the jury, he said.
The Chief Justice said the address contained several inaccuracies relating to certain decisions of the CCA and "lacked a balance" in its presentation of alleged deficiencies in sentencing in manslaughter cases.
But he stressed that was not relevant to the issues of law decided by the CCA in the Dumbrells' appeal against their convictions.
The only issues of law for the CCA related to the statements made by the trial judge as published and their possible impact on the trial, he said.