A Cork teenager who appealed against the severity of his six-year sentence for stabbing his uncle to death on the basis that there had been a breach of the separation of powers has seen his bid dismissed at the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Christopher Ruby (aged 19) was jailed for six years by Mr Justice Paul Carney at the Central Criminal Court in October last year for the manslaughter of Shannon Ruby (aged 30) at Ard na Greine, Station Road, Blarney on September 26, 2009.
Ruby had pleaded not guilty to the murder of his uncle but guilty to his manslaughter. This plea was accepted by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Gardaí testified that Ruby, having been knocked to the floor by his uncle during a row at a house in the Ard na Greine estate, procured a knife before seeking Shannon Ruby out at another house and stabbing him to death.
Counsel for the applicant, Mr Blaise O’Carroll SC, argued that the case raised a novel point where a breach of the separation of powers provided for in the Constitution may have occurred.
He said that in the course of the sentence hearing, Mr Justice Carney had solicited the opinion of the DPP as to where the offence lay on the scale or range of seriousness, in keeping with what is currently common practice in court.
However, Mr O’Carroll said that the determination of an appropriate sentence for a given offence was unambiguously and solely a matter for the courts. He asked whether there was a danger in having the DPP proffer his opinion on sentencing and whether this “new practice” undermined the obligations and duties of the judiciary.
Mr O’Carroll added that his client was also appealing the six-year jail term imposed on the grounds of severity of sentence.
Mr Tom Creed SC, for the State, argued that the DPP was an independent officer who participated in every trial and that, having regard to the equality of arms of principle, was entitled to put his view to the court based on the facts before him.
He said that although it was not the function of the DPP to tell a judge what sentence to impose, he was obliged to point out where he believed the sentence lay on the scale of seriousness, particularly as the State had the option of bringing an appeal against instances of undue leniency in court sentencing.
Mr Justice Liam McKechnie, presiding, said the appeal court would refuse Ruby leave to appeal against his sentence as it could not under any circumstances identify any error in principle committed by Mr Justice Carney either in the manner he dealt with the sentence or in the tariff he ultimately imposed.
However, he said the court had concluded that it would not address the submission on the breach of constitutional powers as raised by Mr O’Carroll and proposed to “await a time when a decision has to be made” on this issue of first principles.