Saturday 1 October 2016

Prosecutors appeal judge's ruling that man (25) charged with dangerous driving causing death was not fit to be tried

Ruaidhrí Giblin

Published 25/01/2016 | 15:46

Judge's gavel.
Judge's gavel.

Prosecutors have moved to appeal a judge's ruling that a man charged with dangerous driving causing death and serious injury was not fit to be tried.

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Robert Harrison (25), of Shantonagh in Monaghan, was charged with dangerous driving causing the death of his 19-year-old passenger Nicola Roberts and serious bodily harm to another passenger in a crash at Drung, Cootehill, County Cavan on November 11, 2009.

Judge Pauline Codd, of the Circuit Criminal Court, determined on July 14, 2014 that Mr Harrison was not fit to be tried in respect of the offence and the Director of Public Proseuctions moved to appeal her determination today.

Barrister Michael Bowman SC, for the DPP, told the Court of Appeal that Mr Harrison had been involved in an earlier accident in January 2009 which caused him an “organic brain difficulty”. The court heard he had been in a coma for two months.

Mr Harrison received significant treatment in a number of facilities, Mr Bowman said, and by June of 2009 he had sought permission to drive again. Thereafter it was recommended he take further lessons, counsel said.

A consultant psychiatrist, Dr Alan Byrne, found Mr Harrison to have scant recollection of the night in question, was unaware of the deceased's name and was not clear of the nature of the charges being laid against him.

Since the incident, Mr Harrison had attained a degree of independent living, Mr Bowman said. He had been driving, had been in a stable relationship and had embarked on a course in an agricultural college after the first accident in January 2009.

A second consultant psychiatrist, Dr Stephen Monks, conducted tests on Mr Harrison in March 2010 which showed that his brain functions were average, his global intelligence was in the normal range but that he has memory problems.

Dr Monks said Mr Harrison was capable of standing trial if special provisions were put in place such as giving the accused regular recaps of the evidence.

Mr Bowman submitted that the judge erred in determining that Mr Harrison was unfit to be tried on the basis of Dr Monks' evidence when Dr Monks had in fact estabished that he was fit to be tried.

He further submitted that the judge erred in determining that he would be unable to understand the evidence as well as the nature or course of evidence against him and erred in holding that an ordinary trial could not proceed.

Counsel for Mr Harrison, Anthony Sammon SC, said the DPP's application was invalid and the Court of Appeal was being asked to take a different view to Judge Codd when she had heard the evidence of two experts before her.

Mr Sammon said his client had been brain damaged through an unfortuante series of events and Dr Monks accepted that Mr Harrison had a mental disorder.

No concrete proposal had been put forward on how some sort of a trial could be created for his client, Mr Sammon said, and the DPP were hoping one could be “cobbled together” to suit his difficulties.

Mr Sammon said the Director was contending for some sort of “abnormal” trial which would be “unique”.

Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court would reserve judgment and give it as soon as possible.

The appeal was taken under section 7(3) of the Criminal Law (Insanity Act 2006).

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