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Supreme Court of Ireland Decisions
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Cite as:  IESC 69
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Judgment Title: Kelly -v- DPP
Composition of Court: Denham J., Hardiman J., Macken J.
Judgment by: Denham J.
Status of Judgment: Approved
Notes on Memo: Appeal dismissed
THE SUPREME COURT
[S.C. No: 310/2005]
The Director of Public Prosecutions and
Judgment delivered the 21st day of December, 2007 by Denham J.
1. John Kelly, the applicant/appellant, hereinafter referred to as 'the applicant', has brought this appeal from the order and judgment of the High Court (Quirke J.) of the 7th July, 2005, which Court refused to prohibit the trial of the applicant on Bill No DU 195/98, presently pending in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
2. There is a long history to this appeal. The relevant facts include the following:-
(i) On the 12th May, 1997 the applicant was arrested and charged with offences under s.3 and s.15 of the Misuse of Drugs Acts. There are four counts, which relate to the possession of a controlled drug, cannabis resin, contrary to the Misuse of Drugs Acts. The alleged events took place at or near the entrance to the Liffey Valley Park from St Laurence's Road, Chapelizod, Dublin, on the 12th May, 1997. There were two incidents: the first two counts relate to the possession of two bricks of cannabis resin, which the prosecution allege the applicant threw onto the grass as he approached the exit with another person. Counts three and four relate to two bricks of cannabis resin found by the Garda Síochána buried a few inches beneath the surface of the park.
(ii) The applicant was charged with the following offences:
Possession of a controlled drug for the purpose of supply contrary to Section 15 and Section 27 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977 as amended by Section 6 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1984.
John Kelly on the 12th of May, 1997 at St. Laurence's Road in the County of the City of Dublin did have in his possession a controlled drug, to wit, Cannabis Resin for the purpose of selling or otherwise supplying it to another in contravention of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, 1988 and 1993 made under Section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977.
Count No. 2
John Kelly on the 12th of May, 1997 at St. Laurence's Road in the County of the City of Dublin did have unlawfully in his possession a controlled drug, to wit, Cannabis Resin.
Count No. 3
John Kelly on the 12th of May, 1997 in or about the N4 Chapelizod By-Pass being an area known as Long Meadows in the County of the City of Dublin did have in his possession a controlled drug, to wit, Cannabis Resin for the purpose of selling or otherwise supplying it to another in contravention of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, 1988 and 1993 made under Section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977.
Count No. 4
John Kelly on the 12th of May, 1997 in or about the N4 Chapelizod By-Pass being an area known as Long Meadows in the County of the City of Dublin did unlawfully have in his possession a controlled drug, to wit, Cannabis Resin.
(iv) In February, 1998 the applicant was served with the Book of Evidence.
(v) On the 23rd March, 1998 the applicant's solicitors wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions seeking, inter alia, 'the results of any forensic examinations undertaken during the investigation of this case.' A Notice of Additional Evidence with statements detailing the results of the forensic examinations was served on the applicant on or around 19th October, 1998.
(vi) Between the 10th July, 2000 and the 15th July, 2000 there was a six day trial in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court leading to the conviction of the applicant on the buried package charges, the jury disagreed on the discarded packages charges.
(vii) On the 22nd August, 2000 the applicant lodged an appeal against the convictions in the Court of Criminal Appeal.
(viii) On the 21st of March, 2002 the Court of Criminal Appeal heard the appeal and gave an ex tempore judgment setting aside the convictions on the basis that the questions put in cross examination to the applicant transgressed permissible bounds and infringed the provisions of s.1(b) of the Criminal Justice (Evidence) Act, 1924. The Court of Criminal Appeal was of the opinion that there should be a new trial.
(ix) On the 24th May, 2002 the Director of Public Prosecutions ordered a retrial on all four charges.
(x) On the 24th April, 2002 the applicant's solicitor wrote seeking the results of the forensic examinations of the dashboard and steering wheel of the applicant's vehicle.
(xi) On the 2nd June, 2002 the date for retrial was set for the 14th October, 2002.
(xii) On the 31st July, 2002 the applicant was given leave to apply by way of judicial review for orders prohibiting the respondents from proceeding further with the trial of the applicant.
(xiii) On the 26th May, 2005 the application for judicial review was heard by the High Court (Quirke J.)
(xiv) On the 17th June, 2005 the High Court delivered judgment, refusing the applicant's application to prohibit his trial.
(xv) On the 9th August, 2005 Notice of Appeal to this Court was lodged.
(xvi) On the 25th November, 2005 this Court granted the applicant a stay on the prosecutions, pending determination of this appeal.
3. The High Court described the claim of the applicant as follows:
(1) the applicant’s motorcar, including the steering wheel and dashboard of the vehicle, and
(2) the outer packaging surfaces of parcels of cannabis resin which were recovered at or near the location where the offences were alleged to have occurred on 12th May, 1997.
It is contended that the absence of these fingerprints and palm marks has given rise to a real and serious risk that the applicant, who has already been tried in respect of the charges and now faces a retrial, will not receive a fair retrial in respect of the offences alleged against him."
The learned High Court judge refused the application, concluding as follows:-
It follows that I am not satisfied that the retrial of the applicant should be prohibited on the ground that the Gardaí failed to obtain and preserve fingerprints and palm marks from the outer packaging surfaces of the parcels of cannabis resin which were recovered at or near the location where the offences are alleged to have occurred.
In the light of the foregoing, it is unnecessary for me to consider the submissions made on behalf of the respondents relative to the alleged delay on the part of the applicant in seeking the relief which has been sought herein.
I should point out in passing that the duty which rests upon the prosecuting authorities to preserve evidence and to do so “as far as is necessary and practicable” is a duty which has been identified repeatedly by the courts before and after the decision of the High Court (Lynch J.) in Murphy v. Director of Public Prosecutions  I.L.R.M. 71.
It is noteworthy in the instant case that the applicant’s solicitors sought the results of “any forensic examinations undertaken” from the State on the 28th March, 1998. The Book of Evidence in the case was delivered to the applicant on 6th February, 1998.
The applicant claimed at his trial that when he read the Book of Evidence in February of 1998 he “…wanted fingerprint evidence …” If that was so then, in February 1998, the applicant and his advisors considered such evidence to be relevant to the issues to be determined at his trial.
However, no step was taken on behalf of the applicant to seek the relief which has been sought in these proceedings until 12th August, 2002.
As I have indicated, however, it is unnecessary for me to consider that aspect of the case since I am not satisfied on the evidence that the applicant has proved that he is entitled to the relief which has been sought.
Accordingly the relief sought is refused."
The applicant filed many grounds of appeal. However, in essence it was the applicant's case that there is a real risk of an unfair trial as the investigating gardaí failed to take, retain and preserve fingerprint or palm mark evidence from the outer packaging of the parcels of cannabis resin recovered at the scene. It was claimed that the failure of the investigating gardaí (on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions) to lift, retain and properly preserve palm and fingerprint marks from the packaging or parcels of cannabis resin recovered in Chapelizod on the 12th May, 1997, or from the applicant's motor car recovered nearby, gave rise to a real risk of an unfair trial. It was alleged that the specific unfairness to the applicant is that proper forensic examination would have given him the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of Mr O'Reilly's testimony by the presence of Mr O'Reilly's fingerprints, and would have given real value and meaning to the absence of the applicant's own fingerprints. It was claimed that the applicant has been deprived of potentially exculpatory evidence, that preservation and fingerprinting of the discarded packages would have proved that Francis O'Reilly in fact handled the packages, and proper preservation and fingerprinting of the dashboard and steering wheel of the applicant's car would have proved that Francis O'Reilly drove the car to Long Meadows Park on the date of the alleged offences.
6. The Law
Mr Diarmaid McGuinness S.C., counsel for the respondents, submitted, inter alia, that (i) the evidence was preserved, (ii) it was always the intent that the fingerprint evidence be sought, (iii) this was done, (iv) the applicant has made no request to examine the evidence, (v) this matter has been ventilated at a trial already, (vi) a retrial has been ordered, (vii) that no cogent case has been made that the applicant is impaired from mounting his defence, (viii) this matter did not come within the Braddish v. D.P.P. jurisprudence; and that the Court should not extend the law as stated in Braddish v. D.P.P.
While the pleadings and written submissions also referred to the question of fingerprint evidence in the applicant's car, this was, correctly in my view, not pressed. The primary matter is the question of fingerprint evidence on the packaging of the bricks of cannabis resin. It is this aspect which determines the appeal.
Thus this appeal revolves around issues of fact, indeed around the absence of factual evidence.
In this case the parcels were preserved and examined forensically. Evidence of the forensic examination was made available to the applicant before his trial, and the evidence was given at his trial. The result of the forensic examination was that no fingerprints were found on the packaging of the parcels.
The applicant's solicitor wrote to the Chief State Solicitor in March, 1998, shortly after receiving the Book of Evidence seeking:
The State case that he was seen handling the packages was known to him, perhaps at the bail hearing, but certainly from the time when the Book of Evidence was served on him in February, 1998.
The applicant has never sought to have the packaging forensically examined. It remains open to the applicant to seek such a forensic examination. The applicant has a duty to seek examinations of any matter of relevance. Yet never, since May, 1997, has the applicant sought to examine the wrappings in issue. The wrappings exist and could yet be examined.
There is no evidence that the passage of time, or handling, would destroy fingerprints. Garda Short, the arresting and investigating member of An Garda Síochána, described the situation after the arrest in relation to the packages as follows:-
A. The packets, in that - there was a lot of evidence to be obtained from each individual packet. I travelled to the Depo, where I meet with John Power. I explained to John Power the type of case we had, and I explained to him to be careful with both the packages, with a view to them being sent for fingerprinting.
Q. Did you tell Mr Power that part of your account was that you had seen John Kelly throw the packets into the grass?
A. Yes, that is the account he would have been given, he was given.
Q. That he was not wearing gloves at the time?
A. I can, honestly, say, I wouldn't have said to him that he wasn't wearing gloves, but my intention was - the query was for him, was several quires to - (1) to analyses what was within the pack age, (2) to analyses the blue dye, and (3) was a request for fingerprint evidence. They were the three requests that, with regard to the articles recovered, and the articles given to John Power.
Q. Insofar as the four items, the four packages with the cling film on, can you say were they subjected to fingerprint analyses.
A. They were subjected to fingerprint analyses at a very late stage. The situation with the cling film, the cling film was cut off by John Power to retain as much of the outer surface, because it's cling film, and when cling film is wrapped around an article, it shrinks in and overlaps and overlaps, and to preserve any fingerprints that could have been there it was cut in a particular position, which could preserve it as best as possible.
It was then transferred from there to the forensic - to the chemistry lab, which is Sheila Willis. She in turn examined it. Examining the blue dyes, but also keeping in mind the possibility of potential fingerprint examination. She would be in a position to give evidence in relation to that.
I am satisfied from enquiries, after we recovered the articles from the forensic lab, that fingerprint analyses had not been done by the time we collected them, and it was at a later date that we sent the plastics back in, but the plastics, as they had been returned from Doctor Willis, in a sealed bag, retained in the sealed bag, and then as a sort of query they were sent back to the forensic lab, in the sealed bag, where they were tested for fingerprints.
Q. These packets, that were on the ground, discovered by Jake, were the packets that you say that John Kelly throw away as he was coming towards the exit of the gate?
A. Yes, that is correct.
Q. Here we now know, immediately, that they are cannabis resin, and the question is, do they contain the finger-marks of John Kelly, or do they not?
A. I had no reason to be concerned with finger-marks at the time, but my concern, at the time, was to, again, the broader picture, to link one scene with the other scene.
Q. Yes, but if the packets had been delivered directly to the fingerprint people, and having regard to the sample of John Kelly's fingerprints, taken while he was in Ballyfermot Garda Station, at that stage could it have been dealt with before you opened the packets?
A. No, the fingerprint section have two methods. I can only tell you from my knowledge, I am not experienced as a fingerprint person, but they have two methods in which they will examine an article; one, would be examined with powder, which is not suitable for the plastics. Two, is the most successful way, it is what's called a 'gloom machine'. The gloom machine would definitely contaminate each individual package if it was to be examined by the fingerprint section.
I was 100% satisfied that Mr. Kelly had handled these two packages, and my intention was to link the two 1 kilos to the two 5 kilos. That is the direction I took, and I close to take that direction.
Q. You are 100% satisfied, do you think the jury should be 100% satisfied as well, and, therefore, there is no need for you to send these for fingerprint analyses immediately?
A. Judge, fingerprint analyses would contaminate each individual pack, and, again, would link each individual pack. If a person was to examine the outer packs, prior to them going to the chemistry section, it would contaminate all packets, … …"
Q. I think that these were various plastic wrappings?
A. Well they were actually in four different packages they were cling film four separate piece.
Q. Did you examine them?
A. I examined each of the items for finger and indeed marks with negative results.
Q. And you subsequently returned them back to another Guard, … …?
A. Yes. … …"
A. That's correct.
Q. An in respect of an offence that was alleged committed back on the 12th May 1997?
Q. More than a year later.
A. That's correct My Lord."
Q. What would the good practice rule be in terms of checking for fingerprints?
A. The practice to my mind would be carefully handling, packaging and correct examination.
Q. Is there not a time factor in good practice?
A. Yes, well more often than not it would be examined sooner rather than later. I can probably best explain that in relation to a burglary or a crime that a scene of crime examiner would go out and retrieve evidence and have it examined, he would do that sooner rather than later.
Q. Just to summarise the position here are we talking about later as opposed to sooner?
A. I would say later."
I am satisfied that the applicant has not discharged the onus required of him to show that there is a real risk of an unfair trial as the result of any failure to examine properly and preserve the packaging. There is no evidence of any contrary approach. The evidence itself is neutral. Also, the applicant has never sought to have an expert analyse for fingerprints. As Hardiman J. states, and with which I agree, the applicant has not engaged with the facts of this case sufficiently to make out a case that would entitle him to relief.
I would affirm the judgment of the High Court. The absence of any evidence of fingerprints or palm prints will not expose the applicant to a real or serious risk of an unfair trial. I reach this decision on the facts of the case. My decision is not a decision on law, nor is it either expressly or by inference an extension of the law as stated in Braddish v. D.P.P.
JUDGMENT delivered the 21st day of December, 2007, by Mr. Justice Hardiman.
I agree with the judgment which has been delivered by Mrs. Justice Denham.
In my view, the applicant has not engaged with the facts of this case sufficiently to make out a case that would entitle him to relief. In particular he has failed to adduce evidence to show:
(b) That, again as a matter of probability, it was the treatment of the packets by the gardaí or those scientific personnel to whom they gave them, and the effect of such treatment on the cling film, that caused the fingerprints, otherwise probably available, to cease to be visible or available at the time the packaging was eventually examined for fingerprints.
I agree with the judgment of Mrs. Justice Denham and the order she proposes.