State challenges acquittal of man over hazardous landfill site

Man’s defence was that he was a consultant to the waste company in question

 

Lawyers for the State are seeking to overturn a judge’s ruling which acquitted a man on charges relating to the operation of a hazardous landfill site.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was acquitted on counts of holding or disposing of waste in a manner that caused or was likely to cause environmental pollution and disposing of or undertaking the recovery of waste otherwise than in accordance with a waste license.

He was acquitted before Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in 2015.

The Director of Public Prosecutions moved to appeal the man’s acquittal on Thursday on a point of law under Section 23 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2010.

The Court of Appeal heard that the ruling came down to the statutory interpretation of what a manager or officer in a company is and that “a criminal statute has to be crystal clear about who it captures”.

The man’s defence was that he was a consultant to the relevant company.

Counsel for the DPP Alex Owens SC said the man had an expertise in environmental matters. He said the man “allowed himself to be held out” in environmental matters as a director of the company which managed and controlled the subsidiary company licensed to operate the landfill site.

Mr Owens submitted a number of documentary exhibits which, he said, demonstrated the role the man had in the relevant company.

Policy-maker

The documents showed, Mr Owens said, that the man held himself out as a policy-maker and as somebody who instructed others. He was the person with whom the Environmental Protection Agency interfaced in relation to the facility.

He said the man was writing letters on behalf of the company which indicated a badge of managerial capacity. He was in effect acting as a director of the company in an executive fashion, Mr Owens said.

“Really, he’s at the heart of it,” Mr Owens said, submitting that it should have been for the jury to determine who the manager of a company is and who isn’t.

He said the trial judge was legally incorrect to formulate the matter so narrowly in that a manager had to be a managing director or chief executive officer responsible for high corporate decision-making in a company.

Mr Owens said “everybody knows” companies don’t operate in that way. It doesn’t always mean there’s going to be a CEO or a managing director. People who take big decisions were equally managers and “appearances do make a difference”.

Responsibility

He said the question for the Court of Appeal was whether a person has or has not the responsibility to manage that area of corporate activity which is under consideration.

Counsel for the man, Bernard Condon SC, said the evidence before the trial judge did not establish that his client held such a position with the company. Mr Condon said his client was a consultant with the relevant group of companies.

Mr Justice Alan Mahon remarked that the man’s own CV described himself as development and operations officer of one of the relevant companies.

“Whatever the description used in documents,” Mr Condon said, “in substance he was a consultant being paid via the company he and his wife owned. That was the defence” at trial, which led to his acquittal, Mr Condon said.

Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court would reserve judgment.