Monday 11 December 2017

Judge pulls no punches as murderer 'now out of the way'

Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

When he walked into court last month after being informed that the jury in the trial of architect Graham Dwyer had reached a verdict, trial judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt was a whiter shade of pale.

Yesterday Judge Hunt strode co nfidently into court with a kind, relieved smile on his face for 11 of 12 jurors who returned to courtroom number 13 to see Dwyer receive a mandatory life sentence for the murder of Elaine O'Hara.

Some judges, such as Mr Justice Paul Carney - who will this week retire from the bench after hearing the greatest number of rape and murder cases heard by an Irish judge - show little emotion and say few, if impactful, words in their sentencing remarks. But Judge Hunt chose the occasion of his first murder trial to articulate in strong terms that which he could not express during the pre conviction and pre sentencing phase of one of the most truly tragic trials to come before our courts in recent times.


Judge Hunt opened his remarks by welcoming the jury, itself an unusual feature of a sentencing hearing, thanking the jurors for their independence and patience during the 10-week trial.

"I can now say what I couldn't say at the time," said Judge Hunt who himself took the unusual step of telling the jurors after they reached their verdict that he agreed with it "110pc".

Judge Hunt said he had tried and was "falling short" to imagine how profound the ordeal experienced by the family of Elaine O'Hara. His heart went out to them, said the judge.

Graham Dwyer
Graham Dwyer

Judge Hunt acknowledged a reality that families of victims sadly know only too well.

This is the brutal reality that there are limits to what criminal trials, even successful ones that result in a conviction and sentence can achieve for the bereaved and for victims of crime generally.

It has always been thus.

The purpose of a criminal trial, Judge Hunt reminded the court, is to ascertain guilt or innocence. "It [the criminal trial] is not designed, in itself, to answer all the questions people who have lost loved ones want answers to," Judge Hunt told a packed courtroom that surely must have exceeded its original design spec or recommended health and safety numbers.

Delivering the sentence, Judge Hunt said we should be thankful - as indeed we should be - that "this dangerous man" is now out of the way.

The jury is the final arbiter of fact in a criminal trial. But Judge Hunt, who made several references to the fact that his rulings during the trial may be the subject of consideration elsewhere - namely the new Court of Appeal and/or the Supreme Court - offered his own views on the evidence and the unanswered questions the family of the Elaine O'Hara said they will never learn.

During the trial, Dwyer's defence raised an objection to the court, in the absence of the jury, about Judge Hunt's demeanour towards the then accused.

Whatever about Judge Hunt's demeanour during the trial, the judge did not hold back on Dwyer's own demeanour during the sentence where he remarked that shame and embarrassment was something "in very short supply in that corner of the court".

The judge's remarks were certainly strident, if unusual in their delivery. But as Judge Hunt said, there is so little about the case that can be said to be usual at all.

Irish Independent

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