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Judge refuses to set aside Munster trial guilty verdicts in wake of letter written by juror

The court heard previously that a member of the jury wrote a letter to the judge in the wake of the trial.
Dec 21st 2021, 7:26 PM 35,484 0

THE TRIAL JUDGE in the Munster child sexual abuse trial has rejected submissions to set aside the guilty verdicts and carry out enquiries in the wake of a letter written by one of the jurors.

Five members of the same extended family were found guilty of all but one of the 78 counts against them following a 10-week trial that took place between May and August this year. They are due to face a sentence hearing in January.

The court heard previously that a member of the jury wrote a letter to the judge in the wake of the trial. There are reporting restrictions in place preventing publication of the contents of this letter.

Last week, defence counsel for the children’s 27-year-old uncle sought to set aside the verdicts in the wake of the letter from the juror. This was supported by counsel for the children’s 49-year-old uncle.

The three men and two women, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were found guilty of sexually abusing three children between 2014 and 2016. They are the parents, aunt and uncles of the children. They range in ages from 27 to 57.

All of the offences took place in Munster on unknown dates between August 2014 and April 2016.

The parents were also found guilty of wilfully neglecting five of their children while the father was found guilty of mistreating three of them by giving them medication. All of the defendants had denied all of the charges against them.

Extensive reporting restrictions are in place to protect the welfare and identities of the children, who were taken into care in 2016. They were aged between one and nine at the time of the offending.

Handing down a ruling today, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said he was satisfied that as trial judge, he had no jurisdiction to set aside the verdict of a jury once it has been delivered in court and the jury has been discharged.

He said he was satisfied the letter from the juror did not contain evidence to suggest any impropriety had taken place and could not be used by him, as trial judge, as a basis for any enquiry.

The option is available to take the case to the Court of Appeal, the court heard.

The judge adjourned the case for a sentence hearing on January 10 next year. The hearing has been set down for two days.

Conor Devally SC, defending, had argued that as a result of the letter from the juror, his client was now facing the possibility that “the achievement of the verdicts in his case was unfair or tainted”.

“It has left both my client and any objective observer to see that justice has not been seen to be done here,” Devally said.

His client, the children’s 27-year-old maternal uncle, was found guilty of eight of the nine charges against him. He was found guilty of six counts of rape and two counts of sexual exploitation. He was acquitted of one count of sexually exploiting the girl. The guilty verdicts in his case were all majority verdicts.

Devally referred to cases before the European Court of Human Rights in which verdicts have been set aside in similar circumstances and he submitted Irish law is out of date in this area.

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Andrew Sexton SC, defending the children’s 49-year-old uncle, supported Devally’s submissions.

This man – the husband of their maternal aunt – was found guilty of all 10 counts against him. He was found guilty of five counts of sexual assault, three counts of sexual exploitation and two counts of rape. Three of the guilty verdicts were majority verdicts.

Mark Nicholas SC, defending the father, said the juror’s letter had caused his client “disquiet and concern” and he would support a limited enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the letter. But he submitted that in all likelihood, these enquiries would need to be carried out in another forum.

Nicholas’s stance was adopted by Dean Kelly SC, defending the mother and Anthony Sammon SC, defending the aunt.

Bernard Condon SC, prosecuting, said the position of the DPP was that the trial judge had no jurisdiction to set aside verdicts in the case and no authority to contact and question jurors.

Condon said what happens in the jury room is “absolutely privileged”. “There is absolute secrecy”, he said.

The DPP’s position is that this would be a matter for the Court of Appeal, the court heard.

Justice McDermott noted that as far as the trial judge is concerned, once the jury verdicts come in “that’s the end of it”. He referred to a British judgement from the House of Lords which ruled the secrecy of jury deliberations must be upheld.

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Isabel Hayes and Brian Hoban

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