The Supreme Court yesterday ruled (6 agreeing, though for different reasons, and 1 dissenting) that the constitutional right to reasonable access to a lawyer does not extend to a right to have a solicitor present during Garda interviews. In May 2014 the DPP had instructed gardaí to permit solicitors to attend interviews where requested, stemming from the fact that Irish and European jurisprudence and regulation was moving in that direction. There had not, at that point, been a ruling that there was such a right under the Irish Constitution, and Ireland has not opted into the EU Directive on Right of Access to a Lawyer in Criminal Proceedings. However, it had been strongly indicated in obiter statements in the case of DPP v Gormley and White that this was possible. The decision in Doyle indicates that Irish constitutional law has not reached that point, not yet at least.
The dissenting judgment of Justice McKechnie has not been posted online at the time of writing, but an initial reading of the five majority judgments indicates that while they are not willing to determine that such a right exists in this case, they can envisage a situation where that becomes the position in Irish law in the future.
In November 2008 Shane Geoghegan was murdered in Limerick, having been mistaken for a member of a criminal gang. Mr Barry Doyle was convicted of this murder on the basis of a confession he made while in garda custody in February 2009. The circumstances of the confession, in particular a concern as to inducements, and the fact that he did not have a lawyer present during the interview in which he made the admission, formed the grounds of this appeal. I will focus here solely on the issue of whether there is a right of presence of a lawyer.
Mr Doyle was detained for over 60 hours and spent over 20 hours being interviewed by gardaí. During this time he had some 40 minutes of consultation with his solicitor, no longer than 10 minutes in any instance. He was not denied access to his lawyer at any point and gardaí obliged and stopped interviews to facilitate consultations on request. He made a confession in the 15th interview, which formed the basis of this appeal.
Justice Charleton, with Justice Laffoy concurrning, offers perhaps the strongest resistance to the finding of such a right. Charleton J outlines the existing jurisprudence on this issue, which in Ireland has clearly indicated that a detainee has a right of reasonable access to a lawyer, which includes numerous consultations with solicitors but does not extend to their presence in interview. In doing so his focus is very much on the implications: a finding of a right would mean that any detention in breach of that right would be unlawful and so any evidence gathered during that detention would be excluded. In the instant case it would mean Barry Doyle’s conviction for the murder of Shane Geoghegan would be overturned, despite a voluntary confession.
Central to Charleton J’s resistance to find the existence of the right is a belief that there is a lack of jurisprudential support for such a move. Looking to jurisprudence from Europe and other jurisdictions Charleton concludes that “What is of importance is that there is no decision of the European Court of Human Rights stating that there must be a solicitor in the room during the time when a person is being questioned by police in relation to a crime.”
Many familiar with ECtHR law will be surprised by this conclusion. The decision in Salduz v Turkey (2008) is generally credited with having achieved exactly that. In that case the European Court of Human Rights found:
“that in order for the right to a fair trial to remain sufficiently “practical and effective” Article 6 § 1 requires that, as a rule, access to a lawyer should be provided as from the first interrogation of a suspect by the police, unless it is demonstrated in the light of the particular circumstances of each case that there are compelling reasons to restrict this right. Even where compelling reasons may exceptionally justify denial of access to a lawyer, such restriction – whatever its justification – must not unduly prejudice the rights of the accused under Article 6. The rights of the defence will in principle be irretrievably prejudiced when incriminating statements made during police interrogation without access to a lawyer are used for a conviction.”
Justice Charleton does not feel that this requires the presence of a lawyer in the interview. The only precedent he can identify in support of the presence of lawyers in the US case of Miranda, where the provision of this right was justified as a requisite balance to address substantial concerns about police brutality, oppression and coercion:
“In contrast to the situation described [in the case of Miranda] are the safeguards applicable from the moment of arrest in this jurisdiction that have been closely and carefully constructed over decades of experience. In contract too is the direct applicability of such rights… [the ruling in Miranda was] designed to lance a poisoned boil of secret compulsion which is utterly foreign to modern police methods.”
He then outlines the extensive safeguards provided to detainees in Ireland: they are informed about their rights when detained, there is a custody officer to ensure their rights are complied with and they have access to legal advice prior to questioning. Further, the video recording of interviews means that these are subject to judicial scrutiny.
Justice Charleton states “It cannot therefore be concluded that it is a necessary part of the right to a trial in due course of law under Article 38.1 of the Constitution that a lawyer should be present for the interviewing of a suspect in garda custody.” Justice Denham, in a shorter judgment, equally states that “the right is one of access to a lawyer, not of the presence of a lawyer during an interview.” She is satisfied that both constitutional and Convention rights have been met in the current case.
Justice MacMenamin, following a review of recent jurisprudence and noting the recently implemented EU Directive, finds that “I would now be prepared to recognise such a right under Article 38.1 in future cases”. His reasoning for not doing so in the current case is that he feels the appellant is seeking a ‘retrospective recognition and application of a then unrecognised constitutional right’ and that this ‘proposition stands logic on it’s head.’
As regards the decision of Salduz, Justice MacMenamin distinguishes the case on the facts as the detainee in that case was a 16 year old, who was beaten by police in custody. The fact that the current applicant was not vulnerable, was not mistreated in such ways, and had continued consultation access to his lawyer, distinguishes it from that case.
Justice O’Malley appears similarly open to the finding of such a right but not in the current case. She finds there is “some strength in the argument that” the Irish decision in Gormely and White, combined with the decision in Salduz and the jurisprudence of other countries “could logically lead to a reconsideration of the decision in Lavery and to a ruling that the right to a fair trial implies a constitutional right to the presence of a solicitor during questioning.” She predicts that this is likely to arise soon in relation the inference from silence provisions, an indication that she sees this as the space where the solicitor’s presence in the interview might be of particular importance in the vindication of rights. Ultimately she takes the rather unusual step of stating: “I do not believe that the instant case is an appropriate one in which to reach a definitive view on the matter and would prefer to reserve my position on it… “
Justice O’Donnell also finds that the right does not extend to the presence of the solicitor in garda interviews but it is clear in his judgment that he can foresee it becoming a part of the right in the future. He places particular relevance on the current decision for cases prior to May 2014, when solicitors were permitted to attend interviews, though recognises that for post 2014 cases there may be ramifications for a finding that there is a constitutional right.
He distinguishes Salduz as relating to a civil law system with early supervision of investigation by a magistrate so it cannot be said that it has been conclusively determined that the accused should have solicitor present in common law systems. This is a rather unusual way to distinguish European case law, particular given that the earlier judicial involvement in civil systems arguably means that they have greater safeguards than we do. Solicitor presence should therefore be a great imperative in Ireland.
He acknowledges that a clear finding of a constitutional right, a so called “bright-line rule” would bring ‘neatness, clarity and simplicity’ but then proceeds to outline many reasons why this cannot be done here. Having distinguished Salduz as he has, he feels, like Charleton J, that Miranda is the only precedent for such the appellant’s position. On this point he holds that in Ireland
“a lawyer’s presence is no longer necessary as an independent witness of events during questioning. It is doubtful that it can be said that the function of a lawyer is to provide moral support or indeed that anything in lawyers’ training qualifies them for such a role. Indeed the function of a lawyer is to provide legal advice…”
This is, in itself, arguable. It is less than a decade since the most damning report of the Morris Tribunal report on the treatment of suspects in custody. While much has certainly changed, it would seem a backward step to suggest that we should not be vigilant regarding the conduct of interviews. Further, as John Jackson has analysed in a recent article in the Modern Law Review (paywalled), the role of the defence lawyer is much broader than providing legal advice: the defence lawyer should protect the detainees rights, including the privilege against self-incrimination, prevent miscarriages of justice, fulfil the aims of Article 6 of the ECHR, perform a representational (rather than advisory) role in complex cases, give the suspect time to instruct their legal advisor in the preparation of a defence. In Dayana v Turkey the ECtHR stated:
“the fairness of proceedings requires that an accused be able to obtain the whole range of services specifically associated with legal assistance. In this regard, counsel has to be able to secure without restriction the fundamental aspects of that person’s defence: discussion of the case, organisation of the defence, collection of evidence favourable to the accused, preparation for questioning, support of an accused in distress and checking of the conditions of detention.”
There is a need in Ireland for a broader conceptualisation of the role of the lawyer and this may be key to future development of the law in this area.
Justice O’Donnell continues, stating that if the Court found that there was such a right, the implication would be that the statement in this case, which was voluntarily given, should be excluded. He notes that if the Court thought this was the only way to achieve fair garda questioning it would do so but that was not the case in this instances. He concurs with his colleague Justice O’Malley that cases involving inferences from silence present certain complexities and that he “recognise[s] the reality that it may in due course be simply easier and neater to provide for presence by a lawyer as the best guarantee that such provisions are operated properly and fairly.”
As regards the existence of a right to have a solicitor present in the garda interview, while Justice Charleton, Laffoy J concurring, is clear it does not form part of the right of access to a lawyer, there is great scope in the other judgments for a different interpretation in the future. We know from reference by others to his judgment that Justice MacKechnie believes the right currently exist. Justice MacMenamin believes it should exist in the future. Justices O’Donnell and O’Malley both explicitly reference inference from silence cases as ones where it might be explored further. A close reading of these judgments makes it clear that this is not a closed issue in the Irish Supreme Court.
Further, the current scheme whereby solicitors are permitted to attend interviews is relied upon substantively in the judgments. It is noted in each judgment. Justice Denham describes it as an ‘important factor’ in her judgment and a presumption that it is now the established practice seemed to underlie some of O’Donnell and O’Malley JJ’s comments. A valid question in light of the headline decision of the judgment is whether the DPP would now rescind the permission she had granted for solicitors to attend interviews, however, the judicial commentary on the scheme is supportive and seems to assume its continuation. It would, I contend, be difficult for the DPP to make that decision, particularly in light of the fact that she has permitted it for the past two and a half years when equally there was no established right. That has not changed.
I should also highlight the way in which the decision in Salduz has been discussed in the judgments. This decision has been distinguished in the current case by both Justices MacMenamin (on vulnerability grounds) and Justice O’Donnell (due to the nature of the legal system). Justice Charleton uses it only support of a statement that no general right has been found by the court, which is a somewhat unusual interpretation of the above. I contend that these are problematic grounds for not applying the test outlined in that case, which has been repeatedly applied as the appropriate standard in subsequent ECtHR cases.
Finally, it should not go with comment that, on the face of what is outlined in the judgments, questions should be asked about the standard of legal advice provided in this case. Forty minutes of advice over 60 hours of detention for a murder charge seems, without further detail, inadequate. Since that particular detention the context has changed and solicitors now attend interviews as well as consultations. The SUPRALAT project, of which I am a member, is undertaking the first training of solicitors in Ireland in relation attending garda interviews and has been accredited by the Law Society Professional Training unit. Such training is essential to ensure effective defence in the garda station.