Attempt to collapse murder trial over mother crying in court
Joan Deane says families of victims find themselves ‘under attack’ during trials
Joan Deane said she and her family found it very difficult to deal with the loss of Russell while also dealing with a prosecution system that gave them little voice and little support. Photograph: Collins Courts
A woman whose son was killed after three men broke into her home told a conference on imprisonment and human rights at the weekend that the defence at the subsequent trial sought to have it collapsed because she was crying.
Joan Deane said that during the murder trials of the three accused, her reactions were monitored in the court and concern was expressed on the part of the defence about the jury being influenced. The effect of this “nearly broke me”, she said.
“I felt I could not go into the courtroom and I felt that I was under attack,” she told a conference organised by the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society, in conjunction with the Probation Service. “That should not be allowed happen. It would not happen to the accused or to their families. There is an unfairness there.”
Because the first trial collapsed – due to unrelated matters – and the second only reached verdicts in relation to two of the three defendants, there were three trials relating to her son Russell’s death over a period of 18 months, resulting in one acquittal and two manslaughter convictions.
“The manslaughter verdict at the end of the third trial left us with a very strong sense of injustice,” she said. She believes there should be a system of graded murder verdicts available to juries, and that findings of manslaughter should be solely available for accidental killings.
“Calling the crime what it is would feel like justice,” she said. “Calling the death of my son manslaughter felt like a huge injustice.”
She said she and her family found it very difficult to deal with the loss of Russell while also dealing with a prosecution system that gave them little voice and little support. She is a co-founder of Advocates for Victims of Homicide (Advic), which has 350 names on its database and is run entirely by volunteers, with very little financial support from the State.
Ms Deane said that in seeking to achieve fairness and justice for the families of victims of serious crimes such as homicide and rape, Advic was not seeking to take away the human rights of offenders, or seeking revenge.
The executive director of the Penal Reform Trust, Deirdre Malone, said it was important that the criminal justice system did not add to the distress of the victims of really violent crime.
However, the vast majority of criminal acts were not at the more serious end and there was no necessary incompatibility between the human rights of victims and their families, and those who were convicted of crimes.
Prisons were overcrowded with inadequate toilet facilities, inadequate health services, and shared cells. Some prisoners were locked up for 20 hours a day. Being sent to prison was a punishment and what happens in prison should not be further punishment. Prisons are “expensive, harmful, and ineffective at reducing crime in the long term,” she said.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan told the conference that Ireland had “finally started to enter a positive space” in relation to prisoner numbers and that a smaller prisoner population allowed for greater focus on addressing the broader social issues that are tied up with imprisonment.
As of late September, there were 1,033 fewer prisoners in custody than there were in February 2011, when numbers reached a peak of 4,621. This was a decrease of 22 per cent.
He said he was very much of the view that being sent to prison should be a last resort for the criminal justice system. Ms Malone called on him to put that view on a statutory basis.