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Irish Court of Criminal Appeal
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> Irish Court of Criminal Appeal >> DPP v Nial Binead and Kenneth Donohue  IECCA 147 (28 November 2006)
Cite as:  1 IR 374,  IECCA 147
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Judgment Title: DPP v Nial Binead and Kenneth Donohue
Composition of Court: Macken J., Budd J., deValera J.
Judgment by: Macken J.
Status of Judgment: Approved
Outcome: Refuse application
THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEAL
Macken, J. 237/04 & Budd, J. 243/04
De Valera, J.
The People at the Suit of the Director
of Public Prosecutions
NIALL BINEAD and
Judgment of the court delivered on the 28th day of November 2006 by Macken, J.
Each of the Applicants was charged that on the 10th October 2002 he was a member of an illegal organisation, that is to say, the Irish Republican Army, otherwise known as the IRA, otherwise known as Oglaigh na hEireann, contrary to S.21 of the Offences Against the State Act 1939, as amended by S.2 of the Criminal Law Act 1976. The trial took place before the Special Criminal Court (O’Donovan, J., J. Matthews and D.J. Hamill), over a period of eight days in October 2004, and the trial court delivered judgment on the 18th November of that year. Both Applicants were convicted of the charges, and each was sentenced, on the 30th November 2004, to four years imprisonment.
From those convictions the Applicants seek leave to appeal against conviction. The applications, which are being dealt with together, originally came on for hearing on the 25th November 2005. Shortly after the applications were opened they were adjourned pending a decision of the Supreme Court in an appeal in which a certificate for leave to appeal had been granted pursuant to s.29 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924, on the basis that the judgment in that case would be likely to be of relevance to these applications. Judgment in DPP v Kelly (unreported, The Supreme Court, 4 April 2006), was duly delivered, and these applications were then heard on the 7th July 2006. The court will return to the judgment in DPP v Kelly in due course.
The Background Facts
The events which triggered the charges in the trial took place in October 2002 at Corke Abbey, Bray, Co. Wicklow. To understand the case made by the prosecution at the trial, and the arguments for the Applicants as well as the response of the Director of Public Prosecutions on these applications, a brief understanding of those events as accepted by the court is essential. Corke Abbey is located at the northern end of Bray. There is a housing estate there. An off-duty detective garda attached to the Special Detective Unit lived there and noticed suspicious activity on the night of the 10th October 2002. He contacted Shankill Garda Station about this. According to the evidence he saw three vehicles. They were, a blue Nissan Almera registration number 98-D-13365, a yellow Ford Transit Van registration number 01-D-78522 and a dark Nissan Micra registration number 95-D-34286 (originally wrongly noted by him as being 95-D-34285). In the period from shortly after 11.00 p.m. up until midnight he watched the movements of the cars, and noticed the occupants of the three cars acting in what appeared to be a coordinated manner. At one stage five men got out of the Nissan Micra, three of them got into the back of the Yellow Transit Van, where there was already a driver and a man in the passenger seat. The other two got back into the Nissan Micra and it was driven off. A taxi arrived and its sole passenger got out and joined the others. These six men were at one stage gathered together on the path at the side of the Transit van. An unmarked garda vehicle manned by two gardaí, Garda Twomey and Garda Mannion from Bray Garda Station arrived in response to the call made by the off-duty detective garda, and they approached the van. At that stage, one of the six men walked away from the group, and continued walking along Corke Abbey Avenue, through the estate. He was not identified, either then or later. The garda in evidence stated that he had to concentrate on the events going on at the van, four of the remaining five men having got into the back of the transit van and one into the driver’s seat. The Nissan Almera remained on the estate parked in close proximity to the transit van.
One garda spoke to the driver of the transit van who gave a false name. While speaking with him the gardaí noted a black balaclava and the handset of a portable radio on the floor of the van. The other garda opened the door to the rear compartment of the van. There he discovered the other four men, sitting on the floor, as well as a number of items, including: a lump/sledge hammer; two pickaxe handles; a torch; eight plastic bags of cable ties; black balaclavas with single or double openings on the face; two identical navy blue ties, resembling those worn by members of An Garda Siochana; a sky blue shirt marked “Security”; a yellow jacket with “Garda” inscribed on the left breast; black woollen gloves and plastic industrial gloves; three walkie talkie type radios; rolls of masking tape; and election posters in respect of a man called O’Snodaigh. Two of the men in the back of the van were dressed in clothing which gave the appearance of, and made them look like, members of An Garda Síochána, including yellow fluorescent jackets on which were printed or marked “GARDA”. The gardaí subsequently examined the Nissan Almera car. In it were found the following: the genuine registration plates for the car; false registration plates corresponding with the tax and insurance discs on the car; a stun gun; a beacon like a garda blue flashing light; a canister of CS gas; and black binding tape. The five men who remained in Corke Abbey out of the original eight, and who were in the Ford Transit Van, were arrested and charged with being members of an illegal organisation. They were found guilty, following a judgment which post-dates the date of judgment in the present case. Those are the October 2002 Corke Abbey events to which further reference will be made in this judgment.
As to the present case, according to the evidence, the yellow Ford Transit Van was subsequently traced back to its owner, a Mr. Murphy, who gave evidence at the trial that he had lent the van for use by, inter alia, members of Sinn Fein for electioneering purposes. The Nissan Almera car was traced back to a Mr. Michael Byrne, of Crumlin who, on the 11 December 2002, reported the car to the gardaí as having been stolen. The car had false licence plates on the 10th October 2002 at Corke Abbey, and corresponding tax and insurance discs. The owner of an identical Nissan Almera car had previously, on the 6th October 2002, reported that his car had been broken into and the tax disc as well as the insurance disc, but nothing else, stolen. The registration plate on the car corresponded to the stolen tax and insurance discs. The Nissan Micra car, which had left Corke Abbey after leaving off three of the five men who were in it, was traced back to a Ms. Kerry Dwyer, the partner of Kenneth Donohue.
On a subsequent search of the home of Kenneth Donohue on the 24th October 2002 a piece of paper with a mobile phone number and a drawing of what appeared to be a car key were found The phone number was that of the above Michael Byrne, the owner of the Nissan Almera. Also found was the telephone number of a “Whacker” Brennan, whom the court was satisfied was Patrick Brennan, the man in the driver’s seat of the Ford Transit van during the Corke Abbey events, later charged and found guilty of membership of an illegal organisation.
It will be recalled that in the Nissan Almera was found, inter alia, black binding tape. This black binding tape was examined and found to contain what was accepted by the defence as being a print which matched the right thumb print of Niall Binead. During a subsequent search of his home on the 20th December 2002, a number of documents were seized from a small briefcase. Some of these were on standard size paper, others on “post it” notes and some on what seemed to be cigarette paper. All contained notes. The notes on the smallest bundle of documents referred to the actions and movements of a number of elected politicians, members of Dail Eireann from different political parties. The other, more numerous bundles, had notes concerning the actions or movements and/or associations of people engaged in one or other form of anti-social behaviour, some minor and some of a very serious criminal nature.
At the trial, the prosecution relied on several separate matters, called “strands” in the judgment of the trial court, in support of its case against the Applicants. These were, firstly, the belief evidence of a member of the Garda Siochana above a certain rank, in this case the belief evidence of Chief Superintendent Philip Kelly. In evidence he stated his belief that the Applicants were, prior to the events at Corke Abbey detailed above, and independently of those events or of any matters discovered following their arrests, members of an illegal organisation. Secondly, evidence associating each of the Applicants with each other and with the activities at Corke Abbey on the 10th October 2002, which the prosecution contended were activities of a type normally or frequently associated with the IRA and which it submitted supported or corroborated the above opinion evidence. Thirdly, evidence that, following the searches referred to above, documentation was found which was said to be of a type one might expect to find in the possession of an active member of an unlawful organisation such as the IRA, and which was supportive of the opinion evidence. Lastly, inferences it argued could properly be drawn pursuant to the provisions of Section 2 the Offences Against the State Act of 1998 (“the Act of 1998”), arising from the failure by the Applicants to answer material questions put to them in the course of their detention.
As to the defences at the trial, neither Applicant seriously challenged the accuracy of the evidence of witnesses to the Corke Abbey events or the evidence relating to the several motor vehicles involved and their contents. Nor did they challenge seriously the material found on the searches of their homes. Rather they challenged the conclusions to be drawn from the above described evidence. They challenged seriously both the legal consequences flowing from the admission of the evidence of the Chief Superintendent as to his belief, as well as the statutory issue of the inferences permitted to be drawn by the Court.
On the question of the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent, counsel for both defendants had argued that since the defence had no opportunity to investigate whether or not there was any reasonable basis for the belief, it was a negation of justice and belied the presumption of innocence with which an accused is cloaked. In the absence of a mechanism for investigating the reliability of the Chief Superintendent’s belief, there was, it was argued, an imbalance in the trial in favour of the prosecution and a lack of equality of arms, a stated requirement of the European Court of Human Rights when interpreting Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The approach of each Applicant to the resolution of these contended for deficiencies was, however, different. Mr. Finlay, senior counsel for Niall Binéad, submitted that the court must appoint a separate counsel or advocate to assess the material underlying the Chief Superintendent’s belief and report on this, relying on English authority. In the alternative, the court should itself consider the material and come to a view on it, relying on the decision of the Supreme Court in Paul Ward v Special Criminal Court & Another  1 I.R. 60. On the other hand, Mr. Devally, senior counsel for Kenneth Donohue, did not adopt these arguments, resting his case on a different argument, namely that the court is at all times obliged, by means of the application of appropriate principles germane to criminal adversarial proceedings, such as these, to ensure that a fair trial within the meaning of the Constitution and of Article 6 of the Convention is guaranteed, relying, inter alia, on the case of Edwards and Lewis v the United Kingdom  15 E.H.R.R., at p. 417. He argued primarily that the prosecution must either withdraw the evidence of the Chief Superintendent, or the State must provide a mechanism (but without specifying a particular mechanism) for ensuring the fairness of the trial. In particular counsel for Kenneth Donohue objected to any review by the Court, as adjudicators of guilt or innocence, of material underlying the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent, on the grounds that to do so would be unlawful, and contrary to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
In a lengthy and detailed judgment, the trial court recognised the four strands relied upon by the prosecution. It first dealt with the special applications made by each defence counsel concerning the extent, if any, to which Chief Superintendent Kelly could be subjected to cross-examination as to the sources upon which he based his belief. This witness had stated that his belief was based on confidential information available to him, both oral and written, from sources within and outside An Garda Siochana. He claimed privilege in respect of these sources on the grounds that were he to disclose them this would endanger the lives of people and hamper ongoing security measures in relation to State security.
In dealing with the arguments presented, the trial court, in its judgment, invoked the provisions of Section 3(2) of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1972 stating:
The Grounds of Appeal
As to Binead, he has sought leave to appeal on the basis, in essence, that the learned trial court wrongly received and examined confidential information for the purposes of establishing the reliability of the opinion evidence without disclosing the material to the defence, and upon which material it then relied in convicting him. Moreover, there was no opportunity to test the reliability of the opinion evidence of the Chief Superintendent, and the inability to do so constituted a breach of the Applicant’s constitutional rights and of the provisions of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The trial court had wrongly failed to appoint a special counsel or advocate to determine the Chief Superintendent’s claim to privilege. In addition, there was no evidence which could corroborate the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent, nor was the trial court entitled to draw any inferences from the demeanour of Niall Binéad in light of his right to remain silent.
Counsel for Kenneth Donohue also seeks leave to appeal on several grounds. In summary, these grounds concern: the reception and review of the material by the Court when it had not been seen by the defence: a claimed infringement in relation to Article 38 of the Constitution as well as Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the absence of corroborative evidence; as well as the description and the characterisation by the trial court of the demeanour of the Applicant during interview,: and the ambit of inferences permitted to be drawn, having regard to his right to silence.
The Evidence of the Chief Superintendent
By far the most important ground raised by each Applicant is that which concerns the belief evidence of Chief Superintendent Kelly. The reason the hearing of these applications was adjourned was to await the outcome of the S. 29 appeal to the Supreme Court in the case of DPP v Kelly, supra. It would be usual at this point to summarise the submissions made to this court by counsel on behalf of the applicant and of the respondent. However, the effect of the judgment in the latter case is such that some aspects of the submissions made are rendered irrelevant or ineffective while others remain outstanding. It is intended therefore to deal with that judgment first.
The legal effect of a restriction on the entitlement to cross-examine a garda witness of appropriate rank as to his belief that an accused was a member of an illegal organisation was considered in detail by the Supreme Court in that case. That appeal was heard pursuant to a certificate issued by the Court of Criminal Appeal on a specified point of law, in accordance with the provisions of Section 29 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924. The specified point of law certified was as follows:
Even though the first of those two alternative interpretations is strongly favoured by the Director, I prefer the second. Conceptually, and possibly in practice in some cases, evidence of the basis for the belief of the Chief Superintendent might not infringe any protection of informers as it might not be based on informers. As the normal rights of an accused are being infringed, it would seem to me that there must be a constitutional requirement that such limitation be kept to a minimum. It would be disproportionate to adopt the interpretation of the subsection favoured by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I believe therefore, that the Director’s alternative interpretation is the correct one.”
“It has been the practice apparently of the Special Criminal Court not to convict on the belief evidence alone. In my view, that practice is commendable though not absolutely required by statute. There may be exceptional cases where the Special Criminal Court in its wisdom would be entitled to convict on the belief evidence alone. Equally commendable is the practice of the Director of Public Prosecutions of which the court has been informed, not to initiate a prosecution based solely on the belief evidence. These self-imposed restrictions by the Special Criminal Court and by the Director of Public Prosecutions are with a view to ensuring a fair trial.”
Before dealing with the application of the foregoing jurisprudence to the facts established in the present case it is necessary to consider also the related arguments put forward on behalf of each Applicant on Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the court will now consider. In DPP v Kelly, supra., the Supreme Court did not deliver any majority judgment on Article 6 of the Convention or on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to that Article. That was presumably because it was not thought to be necessary, having regard to the terms of the certified question and the majority judgment in relation to Article 38 of the Constitution. This Court gains considerable assistance from the judgment of Fennelly J., in that case in reaching its conclusions in respect of the application of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights on Article 6 in the present case. It is not necessary to recite separately the arguments made in respect of Article 6 in the case of DPP v Kelly, supra., since those raised concerning Article 38 of the Constitution are, for the most part, also those invoked in the context of Article 6, save that the Applicants allege that the right provided for in Article 6 to examine witnesses or to have witnesses examined, must include the right to cross-examine Chief Superintendent Kelly as to the sources for his belief. In the course of his judgment in the above case, Fennelly, J. considered in detail the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and, having analysed it, concluded that, while in the past that Court had found a violation of Article 6 of the Convention by reason of the absence of the right to cross-examine anonymous witnesses, such as in the case of Kostovski v Netherlands  12 EHRR, which report was also cited in the present case, nevertheless that Court had subsequently modified its stance. This was apparent from the subsequent decision in Doorsen v Netherlands, 22 EHRR 330, in respect of which Fennelly J. stated as follows:
Conclusions on DPP v Kelly
This court is satisfied that a restriction on the ability to cross examine the garda witness in question arising from his claim to privilege in respect of the underlying sources of information upon which his belief was based arising from a threat to life or to the ongoing security of the State, does not, ipso facto, on the basis of Irish case law, or that of the European Court of Human Rights, constitute a failure to comply with the Constitution, or with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Having regard to the majority judgment in DPP v Kelly, supra, in the context of Article 38 of the Constitution, as well as to the above analysis in the judgment of Fennelly J. on to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights on Article 6 of the Convention, this court is satisfied that a restriction on cross-examination may be permitted. The majority decision of the court in DPP v Kelly, supra., clearly found that the limitation on the right to cross-examination was necessary, and that it was properly counterbalanced in that case by matters not dissimilar to those which also arise in these proceedings, being other matters which contribute to the court ensuring a fair trial.
Submissions of Applicants post DPP v Kelly
Mr. Finlay on behalf of Niall Binéad accepts the findings of the Supreme Court in the latter case. He argues, however, that the case of DPP v Kelly, supra, does not answer all the issues raised in these proceedings. It is silent on what is to occur in relation to the content of any document which may form the basis for the opinion of the Chief Superintendent. In his submission, it is still necessary, pursuant to his analysis of Ward v Special Criminal Court, supra, for this issue to be resolved, as well as his claimed entitlement to the appointment of a special advocate to examine and report on such documents. As to the inferences drawn by the trial court, he argues that the right to silence which Niall Binéad was entitled to invoke, is not set aside in any way by the provisions of S.2 of the Act of 1998. An accused is always entitled to remain silent, and the trial court had wrongly considered that this was not so. As to the associations found by the trial court to exist, and the materials discovered on searches, he argues that the trial court had correctly pointed to these having a possibly innocent explanation. That being so, the trial court was not entitled to consider the same evidence as being something different, namely, supportive or corroborative of the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent.
On behalf of Mr. Donohue, Mr. Devally argues from a different position. The real issue, in his submission, is that any impingement on the right to cross-examine the Chief Superintendent must be minimised, in accordance with the judgment in DPP v Kelly, supra. He acknowledges that the European Court of Human Rights has itself looked at files. Mr. Finlay, for Niall Binéad, had invited the court to do that at the trial but the prosecution had not agreed to this course. As counsel for Kenneth Donohue, Mr. Devally had objected to this approach, and in his submission, the trial court should not have looked at any files, due to the significant dangers inherent in receiving or reviewing them. The sole reason for viewing such material, he submitted, should be to see if it would or could assist a defendant. The trial court had, however, instead stated that its perusal of the files was, iinter alia, for the purposes of establishing whether the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent was reliable. Mr. Devally argues that this went beyond the limits of what was legally permitted. In considering any such material, of which the defence is wholly unaware, the weight to be attached to the belief evidence by the court was dependent upon material arising outside the confines of the trial itself. The European Court of Human Rights appeared, he argued, to have had particular regard in its case law to the requirement that one judge should receive or monitor material and another determine guilt or innocence, a situation quite different to that which occurred in the present trial. A judge trying the fact of guilt or innocence should not see evidence which is or may be determinative of guilt. Further, he submits that the Supreme Court in DPP v Kelly, supra., considered it inappropriate for the trial court to look at such material. He argues, finally, that the Special Criminal Court, being the trial court, had no jurisdiction to do what it did, since its role is defined by statute and it has no outside, external or additional jurisdiction above and beyond its statutory jurisdiction.
As to the remaining evidence, the court had also misdirected itself in relying on the same. That evidence consisted of possession of a car from which three persons had exited who remained in Corke Abbey; a Rayovac torch found in the transit van; the fact that Kenneth Donohue was found, on a search of his home, to have the phone number of Patrick “Whacker” Brennan, who was his cousin, as well as the phone number of Michael Byrne, the owner of the Nissan Almera car, and he had associated with Niall Binéad. Based on these materials, in a trial before the ordinary courts, counsel submits that the evidence, being of such a tenuous nature, there would have been a direction given to a trial jury. Leaving aside the opinion evidence of the Chief Superintendent and the Section 2 inferences which were drawn, there was wholly inadequate factual evidence of a supportive or corroborative nature. While Mr. Devally conceded that S.2 of the Act of 1998 encroaches on the right to silence by providing that inferences may be drawn from an absence of responses, he contends that comment or reference to conduct, as opposed to the absence of responses, does not come within the ambit of the section. Here the judgment referred, not just to a failure to respond, but also wrongly drew inferences from the Applicant’s apparent demeanour, and thereby misdirected itself in law.
Findings of this Court:
In dealing with these applications, it is appropriate to dispose of the submissions concerning the general evidence first. In that regard, it is important to understand the statutory background against which these matters are to be considered. Section 3 of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act, 1972 as amended by s.4 of the Act of 1998 provides as follows:
(ii) Omission by the accused person to deny published reports that he was a member of such an unlawful organisation, but the fact of such denial shall not by itself be conclusive.”
It is quite clear that the events at Corke Abbey, Bray, and an association with those events, as well as the contents of the vehicles and the vehicles themselves, and the materials found during searches, as well as the movements surrounding the meetings between the two Applicants at or about the time of the execution of a search warrant in respect of the second Applicant’s place of residence, are all matters which come within the ambit of the phrase “movements actions activities or associations on the part of the accused person” found in the above provision.
Neither of the Applicants was found to have been present at the Corke Abbey Estate, and neither was charged with being there. The trial court found that even if they were not, both Applicants were nevertheless associated with the events at Corke Abbey. As to Kenneth Donohue, it found that he was linked into those events in three specific ways. Firstly the Nissan Micra, registered in the name of his partner, was entrusted to him by her shortly prior to the time of the events in question. Secondly, the car had been observed by members of the Garda Siochana at Corke Abbey before midnight on 10th November 2002 with five male occupants, and if he was not himself among those persons, then the movements of the car were with his knowledge or acquiescence. Thirdly, in the Ford Transit van was found, on examination, a Rayovac torch, and in the Nissan Micra, on examination, plastic bubble wrap matching that usually found on such a torch, together with a receipt for the purchase of such a torch. This receipt was from a shop called Woodies in Tallaght which showed the time and date of purchase as 10.45 pm on the 10th October, the evening of the events in question. On a subsequent search of his home a piece of paper with a mobile phone number and a drawing of what appeared to be a car key, was found The phone number was that of Michael Byrne the owner of the Nissan Almera. Also found was the telephone number of “Whacker” Brennan, the man in the driver’s seat of the Ford Transit van during the Corke Abbey events, who was later charged.
As to Niall Binéad, the trial court found that his association with the Corke Abbey events was also proven. Firstly, there was evidence - accepted by him - of his thumbprint on a roll of black binding tape found in the Nissan Almera with the false registration plates, in which were also found the other items mentioned and described previously. He was found by the trial court to be associated with Michael Byrne, the owner of the Nissan Almera car, as well as with Patrick Brennan (the same man as “Whacker Brennan” mentioned in the preceding paragraph) and another person who was dressed in attire similar to that of members of An Garda Siochana, both being among the five persons arrested at the Corke Abbey scene on the 10th October 2002.
Moreover, the trial court found Niall Binead and Kenneth Donohue were also associated together in respect of the same events in the following way. On the occasion of the search of Kenneth Donohue’s house on the 24th October, 2002 he had earlier in the evening refused the gardaí access to his home, in the absence of a search warrant. The actual search therefore took place later, effectively in the middle of the night, with the appropriate warrant obtained and to hand. At around that time Kenneth Donohue was observed walking away from a car located a few hundred yards from his home. That car was owned and at the time was being driven by Niall Binéad. The trial court was satisfied that the account given by Niall Binéad for his presence there was spurious, and that it was too much of a coincidence that he and Kenneth Donohue should be seen together in the middle of the night in the above circumstances, unless Niall Binéad also had some involvement with the events which occurred on the 10th October. The trial court having regard to this evidence, was satisfied that both Niall Binead and Kenneth Donohue, if not actually participating in the above events at Corke Abbey, were well aware of and acquiesced in them.
The court was entitled to find the above facts proven. To take a small example. It was proven that at one stage on the evening in question, a Nissan Micra car had been driven into the Corke Abbey housing estate and that five men got out of it. Three of them remained in the housing estate and got into a yellow Transit van, and the other two got back into the Nissan Micra car and drove away again. It was adequately proven that on the evening in question, sometime no later than 8.00 or 8.30 p.m., according to the evidence, Kenneth Donohue’s partner had given the keys of the car to him. Further when she returned to her home at about 10.00 or 10.30 p.m., neither Kenneth Donohue nor the car were there, but both were there the next morning. There was no evidence and no suggestion that the car had been in the hands of anyone else, that it had been stolen, or in any way otherwise removed from the control of Kenneth Donohue. The trial court was fully entitled to find that, the Nissan Micra having been under his control, he was associated with the events in question at Corke Abbey, through his use of the car. To take another small example. In the case of Niall Binéad, it was proven that he was associated with Michael Byrne and with two other members of the group found at Corke Abbey, and that the materials he had in his house also established that association. The facts upon which the trial court relied were all proven beyond reasonable doubt, and indeed, as the court itself stated, there was no serious challenge to the prosecution evidence of the facts, connections and associations mentioned above. The conclusion of the trial court that both Applicants were associated with the events at Corke Abbey was, on the findings of the Court on several matters, established beyond reasonable doubt and was, in the circumstances, a safe and valid conclusion.
In the view of the court, it was clear that each accused was deliberately, and indeed offensively, ignoring all that was being asked of them. On the other hand, the court is satisfied, not only that the provisions of Section 2 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 were invoked in the course of those interviews, and adequately explained to each accused, but that each accused was given every opportunity to protest in the event that he had not understood that explanation; an opportunity which was ignored.
Furthermore, the court does not doubt the materiality to the charge which has been preferred against each accused of many of the questions which were put to each of them during the course of those interviews; questions which were met with a stony silence.”
The Belief Evidence of a Chief Superintendent
The decision of The Supreme Court in DPP v Kelly, supra., makes it clear that a trial court does not fail to guarantee a fair trial by accepting a claim of privilege based on informer information, and in not permitting, on that ground, the cross examination of a Chief Superintendent as to the sources or the basis for his belief. A trial court may also properly proceed, as here, on the basis of not convicting an accused unless there is supporting or corroborating evidence of the Chief Superintendent’s belief. It is not necessary, for the purposes of this judgment, to express any view as to whether in another case, a trial court would or should convict on the basis of such belief evidence, without any supporting or corroborating evidence.
Having regard to the judgment in DPP v Kelly, supra., the outstanding issues which remain for consideration on the Applicants’ submissions are (a) whether any material, such as documents underlying that evidence, must be made available by some mechanism to the defence, as Mr. Finlay contends for on behalf of Niall Binéad, (b) whether, as in the present case, the trial court was entitled to examine that material for the claimed purposes, and (c) if not, was the trial of the Applicants rendered unfair and contrary to Article 6 of the Convention, as contended for by Mr. Devally on behalf of Kenneth Donohue, by reason of the fact that the trial court did, in fact, examine the said material.
The correct interpretation of the judgments in DPP v Kelly, supra., in this court’s view, is that the belief of the Chief Superintendent is simply admitted as being evidence, no more and no less, and that this was already well established in the prior jurisprudence. It is that evidence, that is to say, his belief evidence, which is the subject of cross-examination. Such a witness can be examined and cross-examined on his belief in accordance with the provisions of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Such a witness is entitled, in the course of his evidence, to claim privilege in respect of underlying facts or materials or sources which led to his belief, inter alia, on the basis that disclosure of the same could cause a credible threat to the life of persons or to the ongoing security of the State, as claimed here. By ruling that it would not convict without supportive or corroborative evidence of that belief, the trial court clearly recognised the disadvantage which flows from and accrues to the defence in a trial, from the admission of such belief evidence with an accompanying claim to privilege which may limit, in a particular case, the ability to test fully by cross-examination the underlying material or facts leading to that belief. On the basis of the judgments in the Supreme Court in DPP v Kelly, supra, and O’Leary v Ireland, supra, this court is satisfied that the trial court did not, in the present case, conduct an unfair trial. This court is also satisfied that the trial court was not obliged to appoint a special advocate to consider and report on the material underlying the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent. The role and jurisdiction of the Special Criminal Court are indeed limited by the fact that it is a creature of statute and cannot operate outside the scope of its statutory mandate, or beyond what can be implied as being reasonably necessary to carry out that mandate. The appointment of a special advocate, in the view of this court, is not established by Niall Binead as being within its mandate, or implied from its statutory jurisdiction. Nor is there otherwise an entitlement enabling him to procure such an appointment.
Turning now to the question whether the trial court did not guarantee a fair trial by itself reviewing the material furnished to it by the Chief Superintendent as is contended for on behalf of Kenneth Donohue, this court is also satisfied that the trial court did not in the present case, by carrying out such a review, infringe the right to a fair trial. The trial court followed the very full discretion vested in it according to the decision in Ward v Special Criminal Court, supra. The Supreme Court, in that case, dealt very fully with the question of the long established principle of informer privilege and the exception to it based on “innocence at stake.” Of particular assistance in the judgment of O’Flaherty is the following extract, which followed on from the analysis of the jurisprudence and the adoption of Canadian jurisprudence in which it is stated that “the right to disclosure is not to trump privilege”:
Further, while counsel for Kenneth Donohue accepts that the European Court of Human Rights has itself reviewed files, he contends that that court considers that the court dealing with guilt or innocence cannot itself carry out any monitoring or investigative role. It is not at all clear from the case law of that Court that any of the judgments relied upon by counsel in this case deal with the issue of a claim to privilege based on a threat to life or to the ongoing security of the State, as here. None appears to deal with a situation where the investigative role in criminal matters, as in this jurisdiction, is not dealt with by a judge, unlike the position in many civil law jurisdictions. The position is particularly different where judges sitting without a jury, such as in the Special Criminal Court, have long experience in removing from their consideration material or evidence which may have been admitted in error, or opened to them, even inadvertently, or which has otherwise come to their attention. A typical example exists every time a trial court, and not just the Special Criminal Court, conducts a voir dire, a trial within a trial. There is the prospect that matters involved in the voir dire, even vexatious or potentially damaging matters may have to be banished from the judge’s mind as the case progresses, and judges do so meticulously and without difficulty every day. If they fail to do so, an appeal mechanism exists to remedy this.
In the trial the subject of these applications, there is no reason to conclude that anything found in the material examined by the trial court was influential on that court in making its judgment, let alone inspiring anything determinative of the guilt of either accused. A statement to the contrary was explicitly made by the trial court, and is to be found in the judgment itself. Nor could any of this material, had it been disclosed to the defence, have been considered to be in any way of assistance in establishing the innocence of the accused –a statement that no such exculpatory material existed is also found in the judgment. It is not therefore established by the Applicants that any material determinative of the guilt or innocence of either of them existed or was considered by the trial court in reaching its conclusions.
The contention on the part of the Applicants that Article 6 of the above Convention has been breached, or that the trial court failed to ensure that a fair trial took place on the basis of these arguments has not been established. Further, in declaring that it would not convict on the belief of the Chief Superintendent alone, the trial court was acting in line with the judgments delivered in the DPP v Kelly, supra. The trial court was also thereby indicating that the belief evidence alone of the Chief Superintendent was not to be considered, at least in this case, to be “determinative” of the guilt or innocence of either Applicant, as accused.
Conclusions of the Trial Court on Guilt of the Applicants
The trial court in its conclusion found that, while the association with events at Corke Abbey, or the documents found on searches, for example, might not, in isolation, be indicative of membership of an illegal organisation, these matters, accepted as having been proven, when taken together with the inferences referred to above, were supportive of the opinion evidence of the Chief Superintendent. When considered with that opinion evidence, all these matters taken together were sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt that both Applicants were members of the IRA or of an illegal organisation, on the date in question.
This court is satisfied that the trial court was entitled to reach the conclusions it did. Despite the argument submitted on behalf of Niall Bineard, none of the matters was, according to that court “innocent” in the usual sense of that word, that is to say non criminal, but could have been used for criminal activities other than those for which the Applicants were charged. The real question for consideration rather is whether, even if each, taken in isolation, was considered to be “innocent” - and this court does not accept that they were found to be so within the jurisprudence in that regard - the trial court misdirected itself in law in concluding that the same evidence, considered on a cumulative basis, supported or corroborated the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent. There is ample jurisprudence, which it is not necessary to repeat in this judgment, to support the conclusion that the trial court was indeed entitled to look at the established facts, when taken together, and also when taken in conjunction with the inferences which it properly drew, to see whether these supported or corroborated the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent. Nothing in the argument presented on behalf of either Applicant suggests that the trial court misdirected itself in finding the facts upon which it relied properly established, nor in concluding that, when taken cumulatively together with the inferences, they supported the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent. The trial court’s finding that the foregoing facts and inferences, when taken together with the belief evidence of the Chief Superintendent established beyond reasonable doubt the charges against the Applicants as accused, was also a correct finding and conclusion.
In the foregoing circumstances, this court is satisfied that the applications for leave to appeal should be refused.