What it takes to break a case
Nyhan studied for a BCL in UCD before becoming a trainee at a law firm in his hometown of Clonmel, Co Tipperary.
“I then moved on to work for a law firm in Mallow, where I stayed for 25 years before setting up my own firm in 2007. Thus we had only one boom year.”
He became a state solicitor in 1997. “Back then the government appointed a state solicitor after the previous one died. We then worked for the Chief State Solicitor. Now we work under contract for the DPP. The DPP felt there was an anomaly in the system. The DPP had responsibility for criminal prosecutions but not for the prosecutors. The criminal lawyers under the Chief State Solicitor were thus transferred as the Chief State Solicitor only deals with non-criminal work.”
There are 32 state solicitors in Ireland. “We represent the DPP in various regions such as Cork. All prosecutions directed by the DPP come through us.
“We appear in the District Court and direct counsel in the Circuit and Criminal Courts. We prosecute for the Road Safety Authority, the National Employment Rights Authority, the ESB, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Social Welfare. We are professional prosecutors.”
The work is varied. Sometimes, for example, a member of the public tampers with the electricity meter so as to have a much lower electricity bill, or so they can have a hash factory in their house, according to Nyhan. “In cases like that, we will prosecute for the ESB.”
Has he ever made any mistakes in his role? “I haven’t been sued and no one has died, so there’ve been no big mistakes in my legal career.”
Nyhan says his career as a state solicitor has not been affected by the downturn. “Crime is recession-proof. If anything, it tends to go up and not down in a recession so we have more work.”
He says the Irish legal system, unlike the US system, is less likely to see a miscarriage of justice. “I have never seen a miscarriage of justice in all my time as a prosecutor. The prosecutors present the evidence but it’s for a jury to decide, ultimately, and juries take the reasonable doubt requirement to heart.”