Conviction for nightclub sex assault of woman quashed

Accused was handed four-month prison sentence in 2013 in Dublin District Court

A man given a four-month prison sentence over allegedly grabbing a woman between the legs in a nightclub has had his conviction overturned by the High Court.

Peter Farrelly (27), a manager in a State financial institution, of Athlumney Abbey, Navan, Co Meath, had pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting the woman, whom he had never met, at the Palace nightclub, Camden Street, Dublin, on July 1st, 2012.

He was given a four-month prison sentence in December 2013 in Dublin District Court by Judge Ann Watkin, who said he had "lied through his teeth".

Mr Farrelly brought High Court judicial proceedings claiming, among other things, Judge Watkin had adopted a fixed policy in relation to sentencing and was wrong to refuse to obtain a probation report first.


The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, ruled the conviction should be quashed.

He was satisfied the hearing of this case in the District Court “could not be viewed by any reasonable onlooker as manifesting the qualities of constitutional justice appropriate to a criminal trial when the liberty of an individual was at stake”.

He adjourned to a later date the issue of whether the case should be sent back to the District Court for retrial.

The District Court was told the woman was assaulted when Mr Farrelly approached her as she danced with family and friends.

Charge denied

Mr Farrelly had denied the charge, saying he suffered memory loss due to the woman’s brother beating him up afterwards. He had been of good character and had no previous convictions.

His lawyers claimed the District Court judge had adopted an unconstitutional fixed policy in the sentence imposed by not first seeking a report from the probation services.

Mr Farrelly was prepared to co-operate with the probation services, the court heard.

Judge Watkin had said it would have been an appropriate case for a report but only if Mr Farrelly had accepted guilt.

Mr Justice Kearns said historically it has been a source of considerable annoyance to District Court judges to read in court papers - or worse, in national newspapers - what they regard as wildly distorted accounts of their (judges’) conduct provided by lawyers for judicial review applicants, or by applicants themselves.

Digital recording

However, the High Court had the benefit of the digital audio recording of this District Court hearing and, regrettably, Mr Justice Kearns said, he found the contentions on behalf of Mr Farrelly were borne out to a significant degree.

Despite significant discrepancies between the statement made by the woman who made the complaint and what was visible on CCTV evidence in the nightclub, Judge Watkin made remarks about Mr Farrelly’s credibility before the conclusion of the prosecution case, he said.

Mr Farrelly was also interrupted by Judge Watkin throughout his evidence “in the nature of cross-examination”.

Mr Justice Kearns said the court found it impossible to interpret Judge Watkin’s remarks as indicating anything other than a view that any consideration of leniency, let alone seeking a probation report, could not arise in the absence of “some sort of confession of post-conviction guilt” by Mr Farrelly.

He did not accept contentions on behalf of Mr Farrelly that Judge Watkin pre-determined the case or adopted a fixed policy.

“However, that does not equate with a requirement that a trial be conducted fairly and be seen as having been so conducted.”