Wednesday 21 March 2018

Legal reform effectively freed killer

Dearbhail McDonald LEGAL EDITOR

JOHN GALLAGHER is a double killer, but in the eyes of the law he is not guilty of any offence and his criminal record is clear.

After he killed his girlfriend Annie Gillespie and her mother Annie in 1988, a jury found him guilty but insane.

This verdict, in such cases, is treated as an acquittal.

The specific wording of that verdict no longer exists. Since 2006, the verdict is known as 'not guilty by reason of insanity' to more accurately reflect that the person is in fact not guilty.

Until relatively recently, Ireland's laws dealing with mentally ill people involved in criminal acts were outdated.

One of the biggest problems was that there was no formal system for dealing with applications by people deemed insane at the time they committed criminal acts -- including killings -- to be released once they had recovered from their mental disorder.

The system for discharging guilty but insane persons was ad hoc and ultimately dependent on the discretion of the justice minister of the day.

That all changed in 2006 with the introduction of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, which overhauled Ireland's insanity laws.

The act introduced a statutory body responsible for reviewing the detention of patients at the Central Mental Hospital (CMH).

Two years ago, the law was amended to allow the review board to impose conditions on the discharge of patients.

Despite the horrific acts he committed, John Gallagher was not -- and is still not -- guilty of any crime. He returned voluntarily to the CMH six weeks ago and was released yesterday.

In doing so, he has benefited from the changes in the law in 2006 and 2010.

Irish Independent

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