Chief Justice Susan Denham has urged Garda chiefs to bring to an end unauthorised leaks to the media by individual officers of matters relating to pending criminal prosecutions.
She made the comments in a Supreme Court decision rejecting an appeal by a 72-year-old former Christian Brother and national school teacher who sought to halt his trial on multiple sex-abuse charges involving former pupils.
It was argued the trial should be stopped because of a lengthy prosecutorial delay in charging him with 251 counts of indecent assault on 18 children in the 1970s and 1980s. It was also argued his case had been prejudiced by adverse publicity generated in relation to previous charges which he was tried on but never convicted.
His identification in media publications affected the emergence of further allegations which gave rise to this case which he was now trying to stop, it was claimed.
The Supreme Court rejected his claims of blameworthy prosecutorial delay.
Chief Justice Denham, in a unanimous decision from the three-judge court, said it also welcomed the chance to address the “premeditated leaking of information” by a garda or gardaí in relation to pending criminal cases.
“The court condemns any such action by a member of the Garda Síochána. It must be clearly understood that information about a criminal investigation in the possession of a member of An Garda Síochána is not his or her personal property to share or otherwise dispose of at his or her personal discretion.”
This is official information in the possession of An Garda Siochána, as a State institution. If the gardaí decide, as an institution, to publicise certain information, on the authority of a senior officer, that is a different matter. But unauthorised leaks by individual members “do no credit to the force” and may lead to prohibition of a trial.
“It is for those in charge of An Garda Siochána to bring this practice to an end, whether it is attributable to ‘garda sources’ or to an individual member,” she said.
In this case, she said, prejudicial publicity against the former brother could not be a basis on which to stop the trial as the “fade factor” — the lapse in time in which juries’ memories fade between publicity and a case coming to court — applied.
The trial, which has been on hold pending the appeal, will now go ahead in the Circuit Court.
The offences were alleged to have taken place in the classroom, the environs of the school, and at a swimming pool.
In his legal challenge, it was claimed he would not get a fair trial because of a lengthy delay in both initiating the prosecution and in processing the case through the courts. He said all but one of the alleged victims made complaints after being approached by the gardai, the first of which was in 2005.
He said he has previously faced trial on six occasions between 2009 and 2011 for similar allegations at another school and has never been convicted.
He had spent four and a half years in custody in relation to those unproven cases although this was because, a High Court judge noted, he opted to remain in custody rather than face significant harassment and vilification from the media while on the outside.
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