Stephen Murphy believes he is getting the runaround. For more than two decades, he fought the State in the most trying of circumstances. Then, three years ago, a Supreme Court judge determined that the various travails he has suffered should be recognised.
Yet, since the battle ended, there has been no recognition, no acknowledgement, that he is a citizen who was wronged and who deserves magnanimity. On June 3, 2016, Supreme Court judge Frank Clarke strongly urged the State to make a “significant” ex-gratia payment to Mr Murphy after finding that he should never have been prosecuted for public order offences.
The circumstances that led to his prosecution represented a “significant internal failure on the part of the gardaí”, the judge stated. Judge Clarke and his two colleagues on the court dismissed Mr Murphy’s claim that he was prosecuted maliciously.
But the recommendation of a payment was recognition for what he had been put through in his odyssey to the highest court in the land. At every level along the way, Mr Murphy represented himself in court.
Yet the executive and/or permanent government has apparently opted to ignore Judge Clarke, who has since been promoted to Chief Justice.
It is impossible to imagine this level of contempt being displayed if, for instance, the Supreme Court had made a recommendation for a prominent person, or one well got in the centres of power.
But it seems that Stephen Murphy, who would class himself an “ordinary person” but is in fact a person of extraordinary qualities, does not attract the same respect.
Equally, had Stephen retained counsel, and had a judge ruled that his costs should be paid, there is no doubt that the State would have stumped up for the legal representatives by now.
“They think they can walk all over us,” Stephen told the Irish Examiner. “Our human rights have been violated by the State and because I represented myself in the courts and we didn’t have a barrister doing it, we’re not getting what we’re entitled to.”
Stephen is from Drimoleague, West Cork, where he has lived all his life. His family and a neighbouring family, the McCarthys, had a number of disputes in the early and mid-nineties over cattle. At the time, Stephen lived in the family home with his sister Ann and his father, Stephen Sr. Specific incidents led to
public order charges against the Murphys, along with assorted allegations of bias on the part of local gardaí. These allegations were never substantiated.
One of the charges against Stephen related to an incident that occurred when he says he wasn’t even present. The Murphys were convicted of offences in the district court and successfully appealed some, but not all of them, in the Circuit Court.
The family were still unhappy that some of the convictions stood, and they initiated a judicial review of the decision. In particular, Stephen was aggrieved that he was still convicted of offences allegedly committed when he wasn’t even present.
“I argued about how I wasn’t there,” he says of his appearance at the Judicial Review, where he first represented himself.
The judicial review result was delivered on March 5, 1998, clearing the Murphys of all but two of the offences. Stephen Sr died the following February.
By then, Stephen and Anne had decided to initiate a civil action against the State for malicious prosecution. Their case was that the prosecutions against them were motivated by the friendship between a local guard and the McCarthys.
Through it all, Stephen read up on the law and presented his case in the courts. He was commended by various judges for his efforts.
The High Court hearing in 2003 brought little joy. Judge Aindrias Ó Caoimh dismissed the action, ruling that the prosecution was not malicious, but was down to a typing error, where Stephen’s name was confused with his father’s.
At that point, many a lay litigant may have thrown in the towel, but the Murphys’ sense of injustice drove the siblings for another 13 years, all the way to an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The final outcome brought a similar result in legal terms, but the Supreme Court judges — Frank Clarke, Peter Charleton and Elizabeth Dunne — had some harsh words for the gardaí, whose work was described as “slipshod”.
Judge Clarke, said that, despite the result, the State should make a “significant” ex-gratia payment to the Murphy siblings for what they had been put through in attempting to right a wrong over 20 years.
Normally, having lost the case, the Murphys would be left with paying the costs for the State bodies, but Frank Clarke said any application for such costs by the State would be “treated with severe disdain”.
At that point, it might have been expected that the State would do the decent thing and accept the recommendation from Justice Clarke. But that has not happened. Instead the judge’s recommendation has been ignored.
Stephen has repeatedly attempted to find out what is going on. Parliamentary questions have been submitted on his behalf to the Minister for Justice. The latest of these came from Solidarity-People Before Profit TD for Cork North Central, Mick Barry, last May.
The reply from the Minister for Justice was as follows:
“I would, however, again point out... that I was not a party to the legal proceedings referred to. I am informed that the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and An Garda Síochána continue to engage in relation to the matter.”
In reality, there has been no engagement with Stephen. Questions about the case submitted by the Irish Examiner to the chief State solicitor’s office, the Taoiseach’s office, and An Garda Siochána received no reply. Quite obviously, the arms of the State just want Stephen to go away. They should be so lucky.
“Let me tell you, I’ve been an athlete,” Stephen says. “I’ve run 27 marathons. I’m used to going the distance and I will do it with them.”
Next stop, he says, is the European Court of Justice.
The case gives rise to fundamental questions. At what point should Stephen be treated like a citizen who has been wronged rather than an opponent to be regarded with contempt?
What does the approach adopted by the State agencies say about their attitude to citizens in general? Would Stephen Murphy be treated any differently if he was ‘well connected’ or close to one of society’s power centres?