Man convicted of raping two women loses Supreme Court appeal

Principles will guide judges in trials of sexual offences with more than one complainant

A man who raped two women in his apartment after meeting them in a nightclub in Sligo has lost his Supreme Court appeal over his conviction.

The court’s judgments dismissing Clement Limen’s appeal have set out principles to guide trial judges concerning proper treatment of evidence in trials of sexual offences involving more than one complainant.

Among various findings in the court’s main judgment, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley concluded the evidence of each of the two women was admissible in respect of each count on the indictment.

This was not due to any feature of “striking similarity” in their evidence but on the basis each of them could properly have been called to give evidence in a trial involving only the counts relating to the other, she held.

Limen, aged in his 40s, of North Court, Quayside, Sligo, had appealed his conviction of raping the two women at his flat on June 2nd, 2014, and of one count of sexual assault. He was jailed in December 2017 for 7½ years.

He had invited the two women, aged in their 30s and lifelong friends, to a party that night and they later decided to go to the party with 10 others invited.

When both were the last guests remaining, they recalled Limen gave them a drink which one described as “funny” and the other said was “strong” and they also shared a joint with him. Each of them described remembering nothing beyond a certain point until waking up.

Garda station

One said she woke up clothed, apart from her underwear. She pushed the defendant away and went into a bedroom where she found her friend and woke her, saying she had been raped. Her friend said the same thing had happened to her in the bedroom.

Both women were very upset and left the apartment together, shoeless. One rang her husband who collected them and brought them to a Garda station and Limen was arrested shortly after.

He denied rape and claimed one woman initiated consensual intercourse with him in the bedroom but they stopped at a certain stage because he did not have a condom. He denied any sexual contact with the second woman and claimed she pulled him on to the sofa when he came out of the bedroom but he had rejected her advances. One of the women later made a further statement alleging, as well as raping her, Limen had sexually assaulted her.

Limen’s lawyers did not seek separate trials and the trial proceeded on the basis the case essentially involved two complainants and one incident.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal over his conviction arising from issues raised by his lawyers over how the trial judge handled certain issues, including their objections to prosecution counsel asking the jury, in her closing speech, to consider elements of testimony of each complainant had “striking” similarities and there was no suggestion of them colluding with each other.

Corroboration rules

In her judgment, Ms Justice O’Malley, noted toxicology reports found nothing suspicious in the liquid remaining in glasses taken from the apartment.

She set out principles concerning the treatment of evidence in trials of sexual offences involving more than one complainant, including concerning the admissibility of “misconduct” evidence, “similar fact” or “system” evidence and the proper role of corroboration rules in such trials.

Those principles include that a judge may sever an indictment if of the opinion it would be unfair to proceed as drafted and are subject at all times to the overriding requirement to ensure a fair trial.

Applying those principles to this case, she held the evidence of both women was admissible in respect of each count on the indictment. The best way of describing what happened in the apartment was that adopted by defence counsel when he said the case involved two complainants and one incident, she said. While not categorising that as a legal concession, it was an “apt description”.

The trial judge’s instruction to the jury to consider each count separately could only have been seen as in the interest of the defence, she said. She did not accept the prosecution’s use of the words “striking similarity” would have conveyed any special legal meaning to the jury.

In a concurring judgment, Mr Justice Peter Charleton analysed how a path for general application can be found for future trials of multiple allegations. In this case, there was nothing to suggest the trial judge's directions were anything other than favourable to the accused, he said.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times