Sentence quashed because trial judge refused an adjournment to let counsel confer with the accused and obtain instructions.

The old saying about justice must be seen to be done was applied in a recent High Court case. In the Circuit Criminal Court, a judge who had a crowded list for hearing, refused a barrister’s application for a brief adjournment to confer with and take instructions from his client the defendant.   It was later held by the High Court that this was unfair to the defendant and undermined his right to a fair trial leading to the quashing of the sentence he received at the court hearing.

The accused had pleaded guilty and was due for sentencing in July 2021. He was already in custody on a different matter and was delayed in arriving from prison to attend the court hearing.  His counsel was new to the case and had never met his client. His request for a short adjournment was refused by the judge even though the state barrister had no objection to such an adjournment.

The defendant received a three-year prison sentence and his solicitor issued Judicial Review proceedings seeking to quash his sentence on the grounds that the refusal of an adjournment was a breach of fair procedures and forfeited his right to a fair trial.

The High Court judge acknowledged it was important to have all hearings heard on the scheduled date but ruled that short adjournments should be allowed in the interests of fairness.   In the first place, the judge noted the accused’s liberty was at stake, so it was essential for counsel to obtain full instructions from him.  Secondly, the defendant himself was not at fault and the matter could have been put back for hearing later in the day. Thirdly, the judge saw that the opposing counsel had no objection to the proposed adjournment and finally, perhaps most importantly, the trial judge gave no explanation for his decision but simply refused it in a peremptory way without any reason.

The High Court judge found that the trial judge in the Circuit Court was in error and his actions had led to an unfair trial.   Apart from the principle of fairness, the defendant had also been prejudiced by not being allowed discuss with his own barrister his previous convictions in the UK.

The High Court quashed the conviction and sentence handed down by the Circuit Court and sent the Case back to a different Circuit Court on the basis of the defendant’s guilty plea.

Connors v DPP [2022] IEHC 8