Garda’s appeal over Disclosure Tribunal’s findings dismissed

Keith Harrison alleged bias due to judge having worked before with superintendent

Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms arrive for a hearing of  the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle in 2017. File Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photo

Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms arrive for a hearing of the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle in 2017. File Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photo

 

The Court of Appeal has dismissed Garda Keith Harrison’s bid to have findings made by the Disclosures Tribunal against him quashed.

The Donegal-based garda, who was strongly criticised in the tribunal’s interim reports brought proceedings that centred over an alleged prior professional interaction between the tribunal chair Mr Justice Peter Charleton and a witness, Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn.

The alleged prior engagement, which led to a claim of objective bias, related to when Chief Superintendent was the Gada liaison to the Morris Tribunal which considered allegations about gardaí in Donegal, in 2002-05 when Mr Justice Charleton was that tribunal’s senior counsel.

In her judgement in 2019, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said she was satisfied to dismiss the action on the basis that “no reasonable person could have a reasonable apprehension of bias based on the overlapping working period” when Mr Justice Charleton and the Chief Superintendent worked at the Morris Tribunal.

She noted that the claim being made was one of objective bias only and that there was no suggestion made by Garda Harrison’s lawyers that Mr Justice Charleton was in any way actually biased in the findings he made in the interim reports.

Garda Harrison appealed that decision to the Court of Appeal. The appeal was opposed.

On Monday, the three-judge court comprised of Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, Ms Justice Mary Faherty and Ms Ann Justice Power dismissed the appeal.

Mr Justice Noonan said the appeal court was primarily concerned with the issue of objective bias.

However, it was satisfied that Garda Harrison had not established a case of objective bias, and the High Court was correct in rejecting his claim.

In his action, Garda Harrison had sought an order quashing findings made the tribunal’s second interim report and the findings of the third interim report in so far as it relates to him.

Garda Harrison claimed the tribunal rejected allegations made by him and his partner, Marissa Simms, and had exonerated others they had made complaints about.

Their claims included that Ms Simms was compelled by gardaí to make a statement against Garda Harrison which led to a Tusla referral.

Garda Harrison also alleged he was the victim of a five-year intimidation campaign after arresting a fellow officer for drink driving in 2009.

In an interim report, Mr Justice Charleton said all the allegations made by Garda Harrison and Ms Simms that were examined by the tribunal were “entirely without any validity.”

Mr Justice Charleton also praised the conduct of Chief Supt McGinn and her management of the Donegal Division and was a key witness in relation to matters contained in protected disclosure made by Garda Harrison.

Garda Harrison brought the proceedings after becoming aware of newspaper reports which show a prior involvement between the judge and the Chief Superintendent.

The articles quoted criticism of a reconstruction from the Morris Tribunal, broadcast on RTÉ radio, that had created a poor impression of Chief Supt McGinn.

It was claimed that the articles and tribunal transcripts showed that the judge knew the chief superintendent and had worked with her and was in contact with her.

Lawyers for the State, in opposing Garda Harrison’s action, argued it should be dismissed and the proceedings were fundamentally misconceived.

It also argued that no reasonable observer could form an apprehension of bias, as alleged by Garda Harrison, on the part of Mr Justice Charleton based on the professional interaction with Supt McGinn at the tribunal.