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Irish Court of Criminal Appeal
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Cite as:  IECCA 103,  1 IR 273
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Judgment Title: D.P.P.-v- Michael O'Brien
Composition of Court: Macken J., Birmingham J., O'Keefe J.
Judgment by: Macken J.
Status of Judgment: Approved
Outcome: Refuse leave to appeal against conv.
THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEAL
Macken, J. [No. CCA 200/08]
THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS
Judgment of the Court delivered on the 28th day of October, 2010 by Macken, J.
This is an application for leave to appeal against conviction, brought on behalf of the applicant, who was convicted at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on the 6th November, 2007, in respect of several charges of sexual assault against two young girls, who were sisters. The applicant was sentenced to lengthy periods in respect of the offences. There is also an appeal against sentence, but that application has been adjourned, in the usual way, pending the outcome of this application.
Notice of application for leave to appeal was filed on the 8th October, 2008, and included several grounds of appeal. Very helpful written submissions were filed on behalf of both parties prior to the oral hearing. Some of the grounds in the written grounds of appeal originally filed on behalf of the applicant were already notified to this Court as not being relied on, which was of considerable assistance to the Court. Of the extant grounds, several arise out of the same provisions of law, namely, those in the Criminal Justice Act 2006 (“the Act of 2006”), and can be described, in general, in the following terms:
The learned trial judge erred in fact and in law, or on a mixed question of fact and law, in his interpretation and application of the provisions of s.16 of the Act of 2006, in particular, on the issue of the reliability of the statement in question and on whether it was voluntarily made.
(2) [Ground 12]
The learned trial judge erred in fact and in law, or on a mixed question of fact and law, in failing to warn the jury, whether adequately or at all, of the danger of convicting the applicant on the evidence of the complainants, in the absence of corroboration of the events.
To understand the context in which the extant grounds of appeal arise, it is necessary to say something about the background to the issues arising at the trial and as to the manner in which the complaints came to light and were noted and assessed. The appellant had been charged with several counts of sexual assault occurring over a number of years in respect of his two daughters. The two children were M, who was aged nine at the time of the trial, and K, aged eight at the time of the trial, and the events took place on several dates up to the time when the first child was about six and the other child about five, when the claims came to light. Both complainants made statements in respect of the alleged assaults.
During the course of the trial K, the younger of the two girls, gave evidence in broad terms in accordance with her previous statement of intended evidence in the Book of Evidence. However, M, the older girl, gave evidence which, after argument, was deemed by the learned trial judge to be “materially inconsistent” with pre-trial statements made by her. The prosecution thereupon sought permission to introduce a pre-trial statement which existed, pursuant to the provisions of s.16 of the Act of 2006, a recently introduced provision which provides for this to occur in certain circumstances. This statement consisted of, or certainly included, video recorded interviews which had been conducted between M, the complainant, and a psychologist, Dr. O’Sullivan, shortly after the complaints had been made by the children’s mother to An Garda Síochána. These video recorded interviews had already been made available to the defence prior to the trial. The material also included a short memo of an interview with the complainant taken or noted by Garda Larraine Fahey. The introduction of the video material was objected to by counsel on behalf of the applicant.
A lengthy voir dire ensued, extending over six days of evidence and legal argument. In the course of the voir dire the video tapes were viewed by the learned trial judge, and several witnesses gave evidence and were cross-examined as to the circumstances of the conduct of the interviews, including the child’s mother, her grandmother, the interviewing psychologist and the observer on behalf of the Health Service Executive (“HSE”) who was present at the interviews. During the course of the voir dire the complainant, M, was recalled and questioned by the prosecution about inconsistencies between her oral evidence and the videotaped material. She was not cross-examined. At the end of the foregoing the learned judge received written submissions, and entertained oral argument from counsel on behalf of the prosecution and the defence in respect of the issues arising under this relatively new provision. The learned trial judge deferred making his ruling on the voir dire over a bank holiday weekend, and thereafter ruled that the pre-trial material in respect of the complainant, M, should be admitted, pursuant to the provisions of s.16 of the Act of 2006. Thereafter, the videotaped material, consisting of recordings of interviews with M, were introduced before the jury, and the witness, M, was made available or proffered to the defence for cross-examination. She was not cross-examined.
Apart from the foregoing evidence - which was the subject of the lengthy voir dire - further evidence was made available, and insofar as this appeal is concerned, it consisted of the evidence of a Dr. Daly. She gave evidence that upon physical examination there was chronic penetrative vaginal abuse, not only of the witness, M, but also of her sister, K. This medical evidence, if accepted by the jury, supported the fact that sexual abuse of each child had taken place, although of course it did not in any way point to, or identify, the party committing that abuse.
The Statement and the Trial Judge’s Findings
The complaints were originally made when, according to the evidence of her mother, the younger complainant, K, disclosed information concerning the activities of the child’s father, whereupon the mother immediately made a complaint to the gardaí on the 15th November, 2004. Both complainants were brought to hospital for examination on the same day. At that time the two complainants, their mother and the applicant were living as a family in the family home.
The second complainant, K, gave evidence of what had occurred between her and her father, which as previously mentioned, was in accordance with her pre-trial intended statement of evidence. In the course, however, of the evidence of M, the older complainant, she made no reference to complaints of the type that had been made by her in the course of the video interviews prior to the trial, or any material reference to matters clearly mentioned and explored in the interviews. Thereafter, the voir dire took place.
In his ruling on whether or not the statements could be considered to be both voluntary and reliable, as required by the Act of 2006 to be established, the learned trial judge found as follows:-
I am satisfied that what is contained in the interview has been volunteered by way of childish narrative and has not been induced or coaxed in any way or as a result of leading questions …
Are the statements reliable, the next question the court must ask itself? The court is lucky to be assisted as regards the voluntariness and reliability of the statements in that, with the exception of the memo taken by Garda Fahey, the other interviews were videoed so the court has had direct visual and audio evidence upon which it can rely. [While] the interviews were not preceded or prefaced by asking the child such questions as to the meaning of telling the truth, or what would happen if the truth was not told? Or in the case of an adult a caution being administered or obligations put pursuant to the Statutory Declaration Act. Nonetheless, I am satisfied, having seen the video, that the evidence contained therein is reliable and indeed, furthermore, I am guided in that by the evidence given by Dr. O’Sullivan as to the results of her clinical examination that the child, and I quote from her, “comes across as a very credible child”. And then the doctor went on to say “while guarded she did develop a narrative credible of her disclosure”.
In addition, I am satisfied that from the way she answered questions put to her, that she was not open to suggestion and the fact that her story was constant over a number of interviews, which interviews were interspaced between December and January, that she was telling the truth and that she knew that she should tell the truth …”
Before considering the arguments of the parties, s.16 of the Act of 2006, being pivotal to these, provides as follows:
(a) refuses to give evidence,
(b) denies making the statement, or
(c) gives evidence which is materially inconsistent with it.
(2) The statement may be so admitted if—
(a) the witness confirms, or it is proved, that he or she made it,
(b) the court is satisfied—
(ii) that it was made voluntarily, and
(iii) that it is reliable,
(ii) the court is otherwise satisfied that when the statement was made the witness understood the requirement to tell the truth.
(a) whether it was given on oath or affirmation or was video-recorded, or
(b) if paragraph (a) does not apply in relation to the statement, whether by reason of the circumstances in which it was made, there is other sufficient evidence in support of its reliability,
and shall also have regard to—
(ii) where the witness denies making the statement, any evidence given in relation to the denial.
(a) having had regard to all the circumstances, including any risk that its admission would be unfair to the accused or, if there are more than one accused, to any of them, that in the interests of justice it ought not to be so admitted, or
(b) that its admission is unnecessary, having regard to other evidence given in the proceedings.
(5) In estimating the weight, if any, to be attached to the statement regard shall be had to all the circumstances from which any inference can reasonably be drawn as to its accuracy or otherwise.
(6) This section is without prejudice to sections 3 to 6 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1865 and section 21 (proof by written statement) of the Act of 1984.” (emphasis added)
The Arguments of the Parties on s.16 of the Act of 2006
As to the first series of grounds, these all centre, as is stated, on the provisions of s.16 of the Act of 2006. First, it is submitted by Mr. Phelan, S.C., counsel on behalf of the applicant, that the witness does not come within the terms of s.16(1) of the Act of 2006 at all, on the basis that she “did not refuse to give evidence”, “did not deny making the statement” and “did not give evidence materially inconsistent with the statement” within the terms of the section. In particular, insofar as the last matter is concerned, the applicant contends that the witness gave evidence that was merely unfavourable to the prosecution case by simply saying “I don’t remember” in answer to questions. Counsel for the applicant relied on a ruling of the High Court in another trial, not presented to this Court, in which the learned High Court judge in that trial had considered the phrase “I don’t remember” not to be sufficient to establish any principle of law upon which he could operate to make any ruling. In the course of oral submissions, counsel on behalf of the applicant pointed out, in addition, that the prosecution had asked for the complainant to be treated as a hostile witness, but that the learned trial judge had refused that application. It was also submitted by counsel on behalf of the applicant both to the trial judge and to this Court, that the Act of 2006 was introduced, in part to deal with matters arising in relation to criminals not giving evidence, and was never intended to deal with a complainant or victim of sexual abuse, such as in the present case.
Secondly, as to the applicability of the section and the findings of the learned High Court judge, the argument is made that the statement was not made “voluntarily”, as required by s.16, and that the trial judge was wrong to hold that it was. In reliance on this, in the course of the trial, counsel for the applicant had cited the definition of “voluntary” as being “a free exercise of will involving an act of choice”, “not by compulsion” and “spontaneously carried out without persuasion” according to several dictionaries. In the applicant’s written submissions to this Court, it is contended that the material in the videotape was brought about as a result of the complainant being taken to an assessment centre further to an arrangement existing between the gardaí and the Health Board, that she had no say in the matter; that it was clear from the content of the video interviews that the witness was “uncomfortable” in some regards, and “guarded”; and that she had to be persuaded, if not compelled, to discuss certain matters. It is submitted that there was repeated questioning concerning what the applicant allegedly did to the witness, and a revisiting of such questions during the course of the interviews. It is claimed that the comments made by the complainant were, by and large, “prompted or hinted at” and, in fact, in some cases “cajoled” out of her. It is further submitted that there was no proof that the witness had not been given hints or other encouragement in respect of her answers outside the venue where she was interviewed, or prior to being interviewed, but these events were not videotaped.
Thirdly, on the issue of “reliability”, counsel for the applicant argues that there was no adequate evidence and, indeed, no evidence at all, upon which the learned trial judge could justifiably conclude that the statement was reliable within the meaning of s.16(2) of the Act of 2006. In that regard, counsel points to the provisions of the Act and to the fact that the statement was not made on oath or affirmation, was not made pursuant to any statutory declaration to the effect that the statement was true to the best of the witness’s knowledge and belief, all of which, he contends, are required by s.16(2) of the Act of 2006. Nor, it is submitted, was there any evidence that the witness understood the requirement to tell the truth, as mandated by the same provision. It is submitted by counsel for the applicant that in the present case the prosecution did not establish, and there was no evidence, that the interviews were preceded or prefaced by the witness being asked questions as to the meaning of telling the truth, or as to what would occur if the witness did not tell the truth. The learned trial judge had, wrongly it is said, expressed himself satisfied, having seen the video, that the evidence contained therein was reliable, and stated that he was guided in his ruling by the evidence given by Dr. O’Sullivan, the interviewing witness who had stated that M “comes across as a very credible child”.
However, counsel for the applicant argues that credibility and reliability are two different concepts. It is clear these are mutually exclusive requirements, because a statement may be made under oath but may not be reliable, just as a statement may be reliable, even if not made under oath. It is pointed out that the legislator was careful to make it a requirement of s.16 that the statement in question not only be voluntary, but also “reliable”.
Fourthly, whereas the legislation does not give any assistance on what is meant by “reliability”, it is submitted on behalf of the applicant that the indicia of reliability ought to include the following:
(b) Whether it was made following a warning of the criminal liability which would ensue in respect of lying or recanting, so as to avoid the “first hearsay danger” of requiring the trier of fact to accept unsworn evidence over sworn evidence;
(c) Whether there is an opportunity for cross-examination of the witness giving the statement at the hearing where the statement is made – cross-examination having been identified as one of the most important means of avoiding hearsay dangers;
(d) The statement should be made under circumstances of urgency or immediate stress, such that the declarant would not have had an opportunity to concoct;
(e) The statement should be made or recorded at the time of, or shortly after, the event in question, while matters are still fresh in the mind of the declarant;
(f) Litigation is not being contemplated at the time of the making of the statement;
(g) In the case of a declarant who is subject to influence, that there has been no inappropriate influence exerted;
(h) In the case of children who make statements in response to questions put to them by authority figures, whether those authority figures have confirmatory bias or whether those authority figures have pre-exisitng ideas about what the content of the statement ought to be.
Having regard to these matters, the applicant submits that the learned trial judge had committed an error in principle in admitting the statement, and the conviction cannot therefore be considered safe.
As to the above arguments, the respondent replies as follows.
Insofar as the question of the truth or accuracy of the statement, or the credibility of the witness, and as to whether the trial judge had before him sufficient evidence upon which to come to the view which he did, it is submitted that the trial judge was entitled to admit the statement on two grounds:
Having regard to that background, the respondent contends that the learned trial judge had a more than ample framework within which to assess whether the child was both credible and truthful, and as to whether the statements were voluntarily made.
As to the issue of reliability, according to the respondent, several factors are relied upon in arguing that the video recorded interviews with the witnesses, which were viewed in full by the trial judge, were reliable. The Court’s attention is drawn to the transcript of the interviews, in which reference to what the applicant had done came naturally from the witness herself, in response to a question as to why the applicant had left the family home. The narrative moved spontaneously to descriptions of other actions of the applicant towards the witness, none of which came in response to, or as a result of, any leading questions. Next, the witness used ordinary dolls to demonstrate physically what she said had been done to her. There was, therefore, no suggestion, as made by the applicant, that the witness was parroting a formula of words. The witness used an ordinary jigsaw to demonstrate physically what was done to her. Further, she resisted any suggestion of being “led” in the course of the interview, indicating that she was not a suggestible type of witness. In addition, there were details made evident during the course of the interviews, which made it clear that the witness was describing actual events. This included, for example, a reference to the applicant using a tissue to wipe her, and a reference to smell. One particular aspect of the interviews resulted in her requesting the interviewer to “lean close” to her so that the witness could whisper this part of her account, which she then spelt out to the interviewer. The witness re-enacted particular matters, including, for example, imitating her father when he raised his voice to her, and describing how the applicant came towards her, and while she said “no”, he nevertheless persisted. The tone of voice, according to the prosecution, during the course of the interview, and the witness’s demeanour in describing the events, had a clear air of reality attaching to them. Finally, the witness’s story was consistent and remained constant throughout the interviews.
The respondent contends that all of these matters were clearly visible and could be readily assessed from the video interviews in question. The learned trial judge was fully entitled to have regard to these matters in assessing the reliability of the interview. The conclusions of the trial judge, according to the respondent, were properly, legitimately and lawfully based on a detailed assessment of the interviews, both as to whether or not the child was credible and as to whether or not the interviews were reliable.
Moreover, it was more than clear that the responses given in the video recorded interviews were materially inconsistent with those given at the trial three years later. The provisions of the Act in that regard were therefore met, it is said.
As to the submission made on behalf of the applicant that if it were not possible to cross-examine a child witness at trial, an accused must be entitled to be present at any interview of the witness so as to be able to cross-examine at that stage, the respondent argues that there is no basis in law for such a contention, in particular, when the interview is taking place prior to any arrest or detention. Such a proposition could never be sustainable and is not required by any constitutional imperative.
The Argument Pursuant to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) and to the Provisions of Article 38 of the Constitution (“the Constitution”)
Conclusion on Constitutional and Convention Grounds
The ground is framed in the following terms:-
But the applicant contends he ought to have been permitted to cross-examine the witness during the course of the interviews which occurred, relying on the Convention in that regard.
Article 6(3)(d) of the European Convention on Human Rights is framed in the following:
The applicant also invokes SN v. Sweden (2004) 39 EHRR 13, in support of what is really the nub of his argument on this ground, which is that he was not given an opportunity to have his counsel cross-examine M, the witness, in the course of her interview with An Garda Síochána, or in the course of the interview conducted by the psychiatrist. It is said that, at the time the witness M was interviewed, s.16 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 had not been enacted, and therefore the applicant’s legal advisors could not have suspected that the interviews would be anything other than a basis for proffering charges, and not the evidence by which those charges might be substantiated. According to the applicant, although the European Court of Human Rights held in the above case, by majority, that there had been no violation of Article 6 of the Convention by Sweden, nevertheless, counsel suggests that, that court placed a great deal of emphasis on the fact that the applicant was given the opportunity to question the witness “at a second interview”.
The obligation on the Irish courts to consider the case law and rulings of the European Court of Human Rights is clearly set out in law. Under s.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 the courts are obliged to interpret and apply any statutory provision or rule of law, insofar as possible, subject to the rules of law relating to such interpretation and application, in a manner compatible with the State’s obligations under the provisions of the Convention. Section 4(a) of the Act requires the courts to take judicial notice of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The courts will therefore interpret provisions of national law concerning the right to a fair trial, for example, or the rights of an accused, in the present case, to cross-examine a witness, in light of Article 6 of the Convention, having regard to relevant judgments, and will generally apply the interpretation of the Convention adopted by the European Court of Human Rights. This principle is subject only to the proviso that any such interpretation must not be inconsistent with the Constitution.
The entitlement of an accused to cross-examine a witness, such as the complainant, is not just well established generally in Irish law, but is a fundamental right pursuant to the Constitution, as is clear from the judgments invoked by the applicant himself. In the present case, the witness, M, was tendered for cross-examination in the course of the trial itself, both in the lengthy voir dire and also in open court, and on each occasion upon which the child was so tendered, the applicant did not opt to have her cross-examined. He was entitled, of course, to adopt such an approach.
The case for the applicant therefore must be based exclusively on his contention that the European Court of Human Rights has established, as a matter of principle, that such a witness must be made available to the defence and must be available to be cross-examined by counsel on behalf of the defence during the course of the pre-charge investigative stage. Such a contention is not found in any of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights opened to this Court. The judgments are confined to findings in respect of the particular investigative and prosecutorial systems and procedures for trial arising in the particular cases cited.
It would be extraordinary indeed if, pursuant to Article 6 of the Convention, cited above, the claimed right were to apply to the stage at which police are investigating an offence leading to the possibility of a charge. This is apparent from the terms of Article 6 itself, which is confined to guaranteeing rights of cross-examination to “everyone charged with a criminal offence” (emphasis added). To seek to extrapolate from a series of cases in which persons already charged have certain rights to examine a witness, at a pre-trial, but post-charge stage, where a witness is not otherwise tendered in court at trial, as in SN v. Sweden, supra., and to interpret that as a general principle or rule of law applicable at the investigative stage of a crime, does not flow from the cases cited on behalf of the applicant, and it is a simple task to distinguish those cases from the claims arising on the present application for leave to appeal on this ground.
Further, it is clear from the cases cited, both on behalf of the applicant, and by the respondent, that the European Court of Human Rights recognises the requirement for particular measures, or protections, to be granted in respect of certain witnesses, including young witnesses who are the subject of alleged sexual abuse, while recognising clearly that the rights of a person charged, within the meaning of Article 6 of the Convention, may not be unduly restricted. The key element and characteristic of all of the cases cited is the importance attached by the European Court of Human Rights to the opportunity granted to a defendant to question, or have questions put to a witness, and, if applicable to the present application, to have an opportunity to have the witness in question cross-examined in the course of trial. This occurred both in the course of the voir dire and in open court before the jury in the trial of the applicant.
On a review of the cases cited by both parties, there does not either appear to be any case in which a witness’s evidence, when conveyed by means of appropriate videotaped material - provided that the witness is also made available for cross-examination as was the case here - is in any way condemned or criticised by that court.
This Court is satisfied that on the basis of the arguments made, and the case law relied upon, there are no grounds upon which it can be contended that the provisions of Article 6 of the Convention were infringed by not permitting the applicant, or his legal advisers, to cross-examine the witness during the course of her interviews with the psychiatrist. It is not necessary in the circumstances to embark on an analysis of the case law invoked from other jurisdictions.
For the foregoing reasons, leave to add the two grounds of appeal to this application for leave to appeal, based on the Constitution and on the Convention, which ought to have been brought by motion in the usual way, is refused.
Conclusion on Section 16 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006
Garda Larraine Fahey was also cross-examined. No suggestion was made to her, or indeed to anyone else, of coaching or pressurising M. Ms. D.O’B, the complainant’s mother, gave evidence and she was not cross-examined. Ms. C, the grandmother of M, gave evidence and she too was not cross-examined. The cross-examination of Sergeant John Byrnes is not of relevance to this issue. The cross-examination of Ms. D, the Health Board observer, centred on the question of how many copies of the tape were kept. The witness stated that the interviews were not evidential interviews, by which the court understands they were not done for the specific purpose of a court case.
Dr. O’Sullivan, the psychiatrist who conducted the interviews, was cross-examined. She accepted that she had not told M that it was important to be absolutely truthful and accurate. She said that she did not think the lack of saying that interfered with the whole balance of what was said. In re-examination, she said that they were conducting a clinical assessment, as distinct from a forensic assessment of credibility. In answer to a question from the trial judge, she said that M came across as a very credible witness. She referred to the fact that M’s account involved various senses being stimulated.
M gave evidence in the course of the voir dire. After extracts from her evidence in court and from the videos were read to her, she was asked “can you explain to me why it is different” she responded “I can’t really I am not sure why”. She was also asked “and what’s the reason that you told the court what you did last week and you told P in December 2004” and she answers “I am not really sure”. When asked about the differences in the accounts and what the reason for that was, she repeated that she was “not really sure”.
Having heard argument on the issue, the trial judge ruled that M’s evidence in court was materially inconsistent with what had been said on the video.
The learned trial judge deferred ruling on the voir dire until the 30th October, 2007 which meant that the matter was adjourned over a bank holiday weekend. The ruling extended over 18 written pages of the transcript, in which the learned trial judge dealt with the issues in very considerable detail. In delivering his ruling, he summarised the basic contentions of both the prosecution and defence. The voir dire took some six days and the trial judge had the assistance of detailed submissions, written as well as oral, from both the prosecution and the defence. He deferred ruling on the matter, and when he did rule, he gave a lengthy and considered judgment. The ruling contains extensive extracts from the transcripts of the videoed interviews and the learned trial judge made clear that, as well as having viewed the video tapes, he had read the transcripts in detail. He pointed out that while it might be said that the witness was unsatisfactory rather than hostile, he had to find that the evidence given was materially inconsistent with the previous statements given by way of video interview as well as with the statement given to Garda Fahey. He stated further that, with some exceptions for hearsay, he was satisfied that what was contained in the video recorded interviews would be admissible if direct oral evidence of the facts concerned had been given, all being provided for under s.16 of the Act of 2006. This Court is satisfied that the learned trial judge approached the question of the ruling he was required to make with very considerable care.
Section 16 of the Act of 2006 is set out earlier in this judgment. Section 15 of the Act of 2006 defines “statement” as follows:-
(b) a statement which has been video recorded or audio recorded,
(c) part of a statement.” (emphasis added)
Before a statement can be admitted in evidence, however, the witness must confirm it or it must be proved that he/she made it. It clearly was proved that the witness had made the statement, in that the interviews were video recorded. In the case of her discussion with the gardaí, the court had the garda evidence as to what was said. This was not challenged on the basis that it did not emanate from the witness. The trial court is also required to be satisfied that direct oral evidence of the facts concerned would be admissible in the proceedings. Again that does not present a problem, as the learned trial judge so found. Had the witness given the evidence orally, then that evidence would have been admissible subject to any issue on hearsay or other rule of law. No issue was taken on this.
Several other conditions must also be met. It is necessary that the witness, although available for cross-examination, (a) refuses to give evidence, or (b) denies making the statement, or (c) gives evidence which is materially inconsistent with the statement. The relevant one of these conditions is (c). The witness’s evidence given in court on the one hand, and the accounts given on tape and to the gardaí on the other hand, were fundamentally at variance, and constituted materially inconsistent evidence, as was clearly established by the prosecution at trial. It was correct therefore for the learned trial judge to so hold, and this Court rejects the applicant’s contention that the evidence given by M in court was simply “unfavourable” to the prosecution. That finding properly met one of the conditions required by s.16 of the Act of 2006.
The trial court must also be satisfied that the statement was made “voluntarily” and that it is “reliable”.
So far as the question of the statement being “voluntary” is concerned, the trial judge was in a position to, and did, view the video recordings. It is true that the learned trial judge could not see what was happening outside the video room, a matter which the applicant raises as a concern, but there is no evidence whatsoever of anything untoward having occurred outside the video room, and no evidence was tendered from which this could be inferred. The suggestion now made to this Court is that it is possible that suggestions were made, or pressure was applied outside the room. This was not a point pursued at the trial. It is not one for which there is any evidential basis. On the basis of the evidence adduced, including that appearing on video, which the learned trial judge assessed in detail for evidence that the statement was “voluntary”, as is clear from the very commencement of his ruling, the learned trial judge was entitled to find that the statement was so made, and correctly did so on the evidence.
The trial court is mandated further to ensure the statement is admitted only if it is “reliable”. In doing so, the trial court can have regard to whether it was given on oath or affirmation, or was video recorded, or if that is not the case, whether by reason of the circumstances in which it was made there is other sufficient evidence in support of its reliability. So far as the bulk of the statements are concerned, they were video recorded. What was said to the gardaí, although not video recorded, was simply a repetition of what had been said on video, and was, in any event, noted by the garda.
As to the question of reliability, no Irish cases in relation to s.16 were opened to this court, and so far as the court is aware, this section has not been the subject of any decision by this Court or the Supreme Court. There are some cases in other jurisdictions applying somewhat similar, but not identical, provisions which may be of some limited assistance, and some commentary in academic writings, which also refer to those cases.
The starting point, however, must be the provisions of the Act of 2006 itself. It seems relatively clear that the Act, in requiring that the statement be found to be “reliable”, appears to mandate the court to examine the circumstances and factors surrounding the making of the statement, to ensure this is a reliable statement in the sense that it is one which can be relied upon, rather than requiring the court to be satisfied that the actual content of the statement is reliable in the sense that it is true. The section permits the admission of a statement, under s.16, provided it is voluntary and reliable, “as evidence of any fact mentioned therein”. The weight to be attached to that evidence is, of course, a different matter, but no point is taken on that. A consideration of later subsections of the Act of 2006 also suggests that the emphasis is on the circumstances of the making and taking of the statement itself, rather than the reliability of the content of the statement, and this appears to be in line with case law from other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, but the matter is not, in this Court’s opinion, capable of being determined by reference to those cases, which depend both on the particular facts arising, and also on the particular statutory provisions applicable, especially in the case of the Australian legislation, which is developed – in its particular context – by rules and guidance to judges as to how to apply the Australian provisions, which are somewhat similar, but not identical, to s.16 of the Act of 2006.
The reliability of the statement may, according to s.16(3) be assessed by reference to whether it was (1) made under oath or on affirmation, or (2) was video recorded. It is only if it was not – and here it was – that it is then permitted for the trial court to consider whether, by reason of the circumstances in which the statement was made, there is sufficient evidence of its reliability. The court is satisfied that, in particular, in relation to a statement consisting of a video recorded interview, as was the case here, whose making may be subject to close and more careful examination than notes taken of an interview, the learned trial judge was entitled to find that the statement, when made, was “reliable” within the provisions of s.16 of the Act of 2006. Having regard to what is next said, there is some clear and intended overlap between the requirements under the various subsections, which indicates the importance to be attached to the circumstances surrounding the making of the statement.
Apart from the requirement that the statement be both voluntary and reliable, the statement also must be (a) made under oath, (b) or affirmed, (c) or must contain a statutory declaration as to the truth of the matters stated in it. Or if none of these occurred, the court must be “otherwise satisfied” that when the statement was made, the witness understood the requirement to tell the truth. Quite clearly this latter requirement is readily, or most securely, met by evidence that the statement was prefaced by a warning, or even a reminder, to the witness to tell the truth, or by a statement of the consequences that might flow from a failure to do so. But the Act does not require this expressly. Rather, it leaves to a trial judge the obligation to satisfy himself, in the particular circumstances of each case, that the witness did understand the requirement to be truthful.
The learned trial judge in this trial was fully cognisant of the significance of this requirement. He took the view that, having watched the videos, he was in a position to make a judgment in respect of the truth of it. This was not a case where the witness was ever likely, due to her age, to be giving evidence on oath or affirmation. Rather, it was a case where the jury was most likely going to consider her unsworn evidence. The learned trial judge stated he was heavily influenced by his own assessment of the witness at the time of interview and based this on what he saw on the tapes. He acknowledged that while the interviews were not preceded or prefaced by asking questions such as what would happen if the truth were not told, or by any caution being administered, he was nonetheless satisfied, having seen the video, that the evidence was reliable. He drew support for his view from the conclusion of Dr. O’Sullivan; that the interviewee came across as a very credible child. The relevant comments during the course of his ruling are set out earlier in this judgment. The circumstances of the interviews in the present case, but not necessarily in all cases, were such that the trial judge was, moreover, entitled to take the view that the matters under discussion in the interview were very important, and that it was clear to the witness that it was important to tell the truth. He was entitled therefore to find, as he did, that M was “telling the truth” and “knew she should tell the truth”.
If the concept of reliability is to be correctly or, in part, measured also by reference to the reliability of the content of the statement, or its substance, there were factors present in this trial which indicate clearly that the content of the statement was reliable. In substance, it was supported by the very significant medical findings and also, to a certain degree, by the account given by the witness’s sister, which was admissible having regard to the “similar facts” doctrine. That the account was truthful is also supported by this evidence. The Court is satisfied that there was, therefore, evidence upon which the learned trial judge could also conclude, as he did, that the evidence itself was “reliable”, in the sense of being of weight, within s.16(5) of the Act of 2006.
In assessing reliability, the trial court is also required to have regard to any explanation given by the witness for giving evidence in court which is inconsistent with the statement. No real explanation was given in court for the inconsistencies, the witness merely saying when asked whether she could explain why what was said was different “I can’t really say I am not sure why”. The trial judge does not advert expressly to this requirement in his ruling. On the other hand, given that he was following the text of the section so closely, he was undoubtedly aware of the necessity to have regard to this issue. The trial judge, however, expressly mentioned the fact that, at the trial, the witness was then 9 years old, and the statements had been made and recorded when she was 6 years old. A three year period had elapsed in the meantime. Without saying so explicitly, it appears clear that he considered this to be the reason for the inconsistencies. That does not appear to this Court to be unreasonable in the particular circumstances of this case.
Section 16(4) also provides that the statement is not to be admitted if, having regard to all the circumstances, it would be unfair to the accused to do so, and the evidence is unnecessary. Here there is no question of the evidence being unnecessary. It represented the only direct evidence of the witness in relation to the assaults alleged. The question of unfairness may be more difficult to resolve in cases of this nature. In concluding, however, that it was not unfair for the trial court to admit the statements in this particular case, the court is entitled to be influenced by the fact that there was powerful evidence to support the view that the witness was sexually abused in the manner she described, and that her account that it was her father who engaged in this was supported by her sister’s similar complaints.
Finally, it was argued at trial, and repeated by counsel for the applicant on this application for leave to appeal, that the section is designed to deal with gangland crime or organised crime. It may well be that developments in that area some time ago precipitated the enactment of the section. However, the section must be read as enacted. It is not confined to gangland crime or to any particular offence or category of offences, and is in no way restricted either expressly or by implication by the words of the section itself or by any other provision of the Act of 2006, or by any other statute produced to the Court. Nor are there exceptions listed in respect of which it does not apply. Instead, it is of general application, and is couched in terms which lend themselves to being applied in a case such as this. A detailed checklist is provided which has to be fulfilled if the section is invoked, before the statement can be admitted. There is no basis in law for suggesting that it is to be limited in its application in the manner contended for.
The trial judge embarked in a conscientious fashion on the task of seeing whether all the requirements were met. This Court is satisfied that he paid careful attention to all the terms of the section, dealt with each of the required conditions and reached a decision which cannot be impugned. No grounds have been put forward to support the claim that he misdirected himself in law in relation to the interpretation and/or application of the section, or that, in deciding to admit the statement, he committed any error in law. This ground for leave to appeal is refused.
The Warning Ground
This ground cannot succeed. It is clear from the transcript that the learned trial judge gave an appropriate warning.
According to the transcript, this is what was said in relation to the first of the four requisitions which were raised after the charge to the jury:-
Now I do appreciate it is discretionary, it has been since 1992, where a child under the age of fourteen is giving evidence, whereas prior to that it hadn’t been discretionary, but I would point out the factors to be taken into consideration in relation to this. First of all in relation to M’s videos of assessment, she was six years old when that evidence was given. And I think that is a material factor. It was unsworn evidence. There was no warning. There was no oath. It is video evidence which again is highly unusual and there was no opportunity for cross-examination at the time. And I think all of those factors make it a suitable circumstance in which to give the jury a corroboration warning, in accordance with the court’s discretion. And I will put the matter no further than that.”
Now this is not some formalistic requirement of the law. It is a real and important requirement based on the experience of the courts, that caution must be exercised by a jury in such situations. Now however having administered that caution to you, if having regard to all the circumstances of the evidence that has been outlined to you, including having regard to the ages of the children, if having regard to all that, you are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt as to the veracity of the evidence given, even in the absence of uncorroborative evidence, you are entitled to act on it. If on the other hand you have a doubt then you must acquit, but bear this in mind, I have outlined to you the legal definition of corroboration but you are entitled to have regard to the totality of the evidence that you have heard in assessing what weight of evidence should be given or otherwise before you make up your minds to either convict or to acquit.”
The Court is satisfied, in the circumstances, that the applicant has not made out a ground upon which this Court should grant leave to appeal in relation to the learned trial judge’s charge and recharge on the question of a warning.
The application for leave to appeal, based on all grounds, is refused.