Man jailed for rape has conviction quashed on ‘almost inconceivable’ omission by judge

Court of Appeal finds trial judge failed to instruct jury on presumption of innocence

A man jailed for raping a woman in Dublin  has had his conviction quashed on appeal. File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A man jailed for raping a woman in Dublin has had his conviction quashed on appeal. File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

A man jailed for raping a woman in Dublin has had his conviction quashed on appeal.

Mohamed Okda (33), formerly of Coolfin, Rathdowney, Co Laois, had pleaded not guilty to two counts of raping the woman and one count of sexual assault at a flat in Dublin city centre on February 9th, 2014.

He was unanimously found guilty on all counts by a jury following a seven-day trial and sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment, with the final year suspended, by Judge Michael Moriarty on October 23rd, 2017.

The Court of Appeal quashed Mr Okda’s conviction on Thursday over the trial judge’s failure to instruct the jury on the presumption of innocence. The court ordered a retrial,

Giving judgment in the Court of Appeal, Judge John Edwards said that although both sides referred to the presumption of innocence in their closing speeches, the trial judge “unfortunately” omitted to do so.

Mr Justice Edwards said it was “almost inconceivable” that one of the most experienced criminal trial judges on the bench at that time would simply forget to give the jury several important instructions.

He said the trial judge proceeded directly into the charge of the jury, or instructions to them, following “succinct” closing speeches by both the prosecution and defence.

He went a certain distance before sending the jury home at lunch, stating that he did not want them to hear “three long speeches” in one sitting.

Mr Justice Edwards said the “well-intentioned” decision to break his instructions overnight, and resume the following morning, “may have had the unintended consequence of causing” everyone in the courtroom “to lose focus” and be “somehow under the mistaken impression after the overnight break that the judge had covered more ground on the previous day than he had in fact done”.

‘Fatal flaw’

Mr Justice Edwards said the failure to instruct the jury at all on the presumption of innocence was a “fatal flaw” that rendered Mr Okda’s trial unsatisfactory and his conviction unsafe.

He said the failure to instruct a jury on the presumption of innocence had previously occurred in a 2003 trial that led to a successful appeal.

In that case, the late judge Adrian Hardiman said the failure to instruct the jury on the presumption of innocence risked “understating its importance and perhaps relegating it to the status of a mere technical rule”.

Mr Justice Edwards, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham and Judge Brian McGovern, ordered a retrial. Mr Okda was remanded in custody to appear before the Central Criminal Court on Monday next.