Big impact of bomb accused going free
MY FAVOURITE CASE: Joe Rice, founder and principal of John J Rice & Co solicitors' firm, Belfast
What is your favourite case?
As a young solicitor, I was blessed in having the late Paddy McGrory, the famous civil rights lawyer, as my master. Paddy instilled in me an interest in human rights law. He believed in the right of everyone to a fair trial and to first-class independent representation before the courts.
I started with Paddy in the autumn of 1980 when he was working on the appeal of the Queen v Edward Manning Brophy, representing the accused. This was my first real work case and my favourite case, as the appeal was upheld.
What is the background to the case?
Edward Manning Brophy had been charged with a number of terrorist crimes including the heinous La Mon House Hotel bombing in February 1978 in Belfast, in which 12 people died.
The evidence consisted mainly of confessions alleged to have been made voluntarily during interrogation. However, Mr Brophy claimed he was beaten and tricked into signing confessions.
I was fascinated by the clever judgment of the trial judge at Belfast Crown Court, Mr Justice Basil Kelly, who, clearly not believing the evidence of the police interrogators, held the Crown had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the confessions were not induced by torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment, and accordingly the confessions were ruled inadmissible. It says a lot about the judge that despite the huge pressure to get a conviction for this atrocity, he threw out the bulk of the charges.
In a twist, however, he convicted Brophy of membership of the IRA on the basis of admissions he had made during the voir dire or “trial within a trial”, and sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The question of Brophy’s conviction for IRA membership was finally decided in his favour in the House of Lords (now replaced by the Supreme Court as the highest appellate court). Brophy walked free.
The Lords confirmed the two rights which an accused (at that stage) was said to have in a criminal trial: firstly, the right to challenge the admissibility of confessional evidence, and, secondly, the right to remain silent at the trial proper.
What did you learn from this case?
I was a young, recent Arts/Law graduate from University College Galway at the time, and to see Brophy walk free made a big impression on me.
It really impressed upon me the importance of liberty. It doesn’t matter how comfortable the prison is, or how good the food – once that key turns in the cell door at night, your liberty has been taken away. That is a right that has to be carefully defended.