Rattigan loses murder appeal

Brian Rattigan leaving court after he was found guilty of the murder of Declan Gavin in 2001. Photograph: Collins Courts

Brian Rattigan leaving court after he was found guilty of the murder of Declan Gavin in 2001. Photograph: Collins Courts

Tue, Feb 19, 2013, 00:00

Drug dealer Brian Rattigan has lost an appeal against his conviction for the murder of a man more than 11 years ago.

Rattigan, with an address at Cooley Roadd in Drimnagh, Dublin, was found guilty of stabbing Declan Gavin (21) outside Abrakebabra in Crumlin Shopping Centre, Dublin, on August 25th, 2001. He was jailed for life in 2009 after a majority jury convicted him of murder.

Last week, the Special Criminal Court him guilty of organising a €1m heroin deal from the prison cell where he is serving the life sentence.

Today, the Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) dismissed an appeal it heard last year in relation to the 2001 murder.

The CCA rejected his argument in relation to the admission of witness statements at his original trial.

A law brought in in 2006 allowed the prosecution to admit as evidence statements given to gardaí where witnesses, while available for cross-examination, subsequently refuse to give evidence to a court, deny making the statements or give evidence which is materially inconsistent with the statements.

Rattigan's lawyers argued it was unfair to apply this law retrospectively and in breach of his constitutional rights. Had his prosecution been conducted speedily, his trial would have taken place before the 2006 law (Section 16, Criminal Justice Act) had come into force, they said.

The CCA said the trial judge was quite correct in concluding there was no fundamental unfairness, either under the Constitution or under common law.

The change effected by the 2006 law was "essentially prospective" in that it applied only to events occurring at trials after the coming into force of the Act, the CCA said.

Insomuch as it could be characterised as having a retrospective effect, in the sense that it altered the legal characteristics of statements made prior to it coming into force, such a change was in any event a clear consequence of the "clear language of the Act", the CCA said. No other interpretation is plausible and Rattigan's argument on that ground failed.

While any delays in prosecuting were regrettable, the CCA noted there were other reasons for the trial not getting on sooner, including that in 2006, time was taken up by Rattigan's own unsuccessful judicial review proceedings seeking to prohibit his trial because of delay and prejudice. That case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2008 and it was a year later that his trial took place.

It was difficult to see how Rattigan's position can be said to have suffered the type of prejudice which would render the admission of statements, or the trial itself, unfair to him, the CCA said.

Rattigan's lawyers had also complained about the concluding comments of the trial judge in his charge to the jury which they claimed lacked balance and misstated the defence case. The CCA said it did not consider the charge to the jury to be unbalanced or that the judge commented in a fashion which was inappropriate.

It also rejected a number of other grounds advanced by the defence that fair procedures had not been observed including in relation to Rattigan's detention, arrest and questioning following the murder and in relation to forensic evidence and circumstantial evidence.

The CCA also today directed its decision should not be reported until 1pm to allow lawyers for Rattigan, who was not in court, to communicate their ruling to him.