Lillis sentenced to 6 years 11 months in prison

Today Eamonn Lillis was sentenced in the Central Criminal Court to 7 years (reduced by 1 month to account for time already served) for the manslaughter of his wife Celine Cawley.

The decision of Mr Justice Barry White was based on a position that the appropriate sentence, without any mitigating factors, for the offence would be 10 years. In coming to this conclusion he had considered the prison sentences handed down in the Wayne O’Donoghue (4 years) and Linda Mulhall (15 years) cases particularly with regard to the coverup.

Mitigating factors in this case included the previous good character of Eamonn Lillis, the evidence this was out of character and his call to the emergency services and attempt to resuscitate his wife. Mr Justice Whyte however, noted on this point “That is the only decent act you committed on that morning.” given he then went on to systematically lie about the events of that morning and blame someone else for the attack. Other negative elements were the time he took to cover up the fight was the effect of the crime on the family members, including of course his own daughter. The lack of clear remorse for what had happened, a lack of an offer of a plea to manslaughter were particularly notable:

“Your expression of remorse rings hollow to me and I consider it to be self-serving in light of the circumstances of the case.”

The sentence is at the upper end for a manslaughter case.

Mr Justice Whyte went on to strongly criticise the media for their coverage of the case. He said the media media’s behaviour had been “an affront to human dignity” and called for their privacy to be respected. It is clear that whilst the media serve an important role in ensuring that justice is carried out in public, that does not mean that media has a right to invade the privacy of participants in a trial.

Previously the Court of Appeal has criticised the photographing of the accused in the case of DPP v Davis in 2002. Indeed, the Supreme Court in Re R. Ltd [1989] IR 126 ruled that “the administration of justice in public [simply] require[s] that the doors of the court must be open so that members of the general public may come and see for themselves that justice is done.” Any claim therefore by the media that they are acting as the guardians of justice by staking out the home of Eamonn Lillis, or by following him and his daughter on a trip into Dublin, would clearly not meet the court’s view of what is protected in a case like this.

An appeal in the case is expected based in relation to the sentence imposed and possibly in relation to the Judges summing up to the jury.

Updates on information retention in the UK

Two important decisions have been announced in the UK today regarding the retention of information in the criminal justice area.

Firstly the Court of Appeal has ruled against an information tribunal ruling that data on old minor convictions must be deleted from police computers. The Court found that retaining information for police operational needs was far easier to justify than disclosing the information to others. To this end Lord Justice Waller stated

If the police say rationally and reasonably that convictions, however old or minor, have a value in the work that they do, that should, in effect, be the end of the matter

The case was brought because under the Data Protection Act which requires that information be relevant, up to date and not excessive. Five people had lodged complaints after their records showed up in checks when they applied for jobs. The type of conviction at the heart of the case were minor, and for the most part committed by the people when they were juveniles.

Under the present police policy, criminal records can remain on the national computer for up to 100 years.

The Association of Chief Police Officers welcomed the decision, clearly relieved that the Court of Appeal had decided in favour of retention of even minor data:

This data assists police officers in their work in preventing crime and protecting the public, and the loss of such valuable information would have been detrimental to that.

The issue is now to be subject to a review of the criminal conviction retention policy, to be carried out by an independent adviser following a request by the home secretary.

The second decision is that made by the United Kingdom’s Home Office to abandon its proposals to retain the DNA profiles of innocent people on the national database. In 2007 it had announced its intention to keep the DNA profiles of those arrested ‑ but never convicted of a crime ‑ for between 6 – 12 years, depending on the seriousness of the offence. However, the proposal is not to be included in the policing and crime bill currently going through the British Parliament.

Doubt had already been raised about its viability following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of S. AND MARPER v. THE UNITED KINGDOM, 4/12/2008, (Applications nos. 30562/04 and 30566/04) in which it held that the schemes for the retention of such samples in the UK is contrary to the right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention.

As reported today in the Guardian, a Home Office spokesman said:

We have now completed a public consultation on proposals to ensure the right people are on the database as well as considering when people should come off. Those proposals were grounded in the research and allowed us to respond to the judgment of the European court of human rights both swiftly and effectively.
The government will take the most expedient route to address the issue as soon as possible in order to comply with the European court’s judgment.

The decision comes after many felt that the UK government would have faced defeat in the House of Lords if it had kept to its DNA database plan. whilst the home Office spokesperson stated that they hoped to bring forward “further provisions” on DNA retention in the next policing and crime bill it will be interesting to see if the issue is considered significant enough to warrant another outing. Particularly as concern over data storage/privacy in the UK continues to mount.

UK House of Lords makes ‘significant’ decision on assisted suicide

News from the UK House of Lords is that Debbie Purdy has has won a significant legal victory relating to the law in that country on assisted suicide. The Guardian has the initial information on the decision.

The unanimous decision of the court requires that the UK DPP issues a policy setting out when those who assist people to travel overseas to clinics such as the Swiss clinic Dignitas in order to avail of assisted suicide services can expect to be prosecuted. The court ruled that the current lack of clarity in the law is a violation of the right to a private and family life under the UK’s Human Rights Act.

Responding to the judgment, Debbie Purdy, who is suffering has primary progressive multiple sclerosis said the decision was about life not death. It allowed her to choose the manner of her own death without running the risk that her husband, Omar Puente, will be prosecuted. Such a prosecution would take place under the 1961 Suicide Act which makes it illegal to “aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another”. Helping somebody to die carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

The DPP, Keir Starmer, has now announced that he accepts the decision and will publish the policy as required. He plans to publish an interim policy by the end of September to respond in particular the Debbie Purdy’s case. Following that, he will carry out a public consultation before drawing up and publishing a final policy on the matter.

All parties seem to be in agreement that a public debate on the issue is essential to establishing a clear and successful approach to assisted suicide.

On the question of the right to privacy and the House of Lords decision in this case see the following article in the Guardian.

The Guardian Newspaper has (very) full coverage of the assisted suicide debate including todays news that a former GP has challenged the authorities to prosecute him under the Suicide Act 1961 in order to challenge the “hypocracy” of a system which allows the wealthy to travel to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic for euthanasia, something which the poor cannot do.

CCTV, Surveillance and privacy – reports from Ireland and the UK

The Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights was pleased to welcome His Honour Judge Patrick J. Moran to the launch last week of CCTV as a Crime Prevention Strategy: A Review of the Literature by Dorothy Appelbe. The event took place on the 28th January 2009.

The report is the culmination of research funded by Allianz Ireland, Cork Chamber of Commerce and the Faculty of Law, University College, Cork.

CCTV is one of the most renowned weapons in the fight against crime. In Britain, which is said to be the most surveilled society, public area CCTV began its career as a crime prevention tactic in the 1970s. Since then, Britain has seen a massive proliferation of CCTV. The use of CCTV in the investigation such high profile cases as the abduction and killing of Jamie Bulger, the Admiral Duncan nail-bombing and the London bombings has undoubtedly fuelled the rapid spread of public area CCTV coverage.

By comparison, public area CCTV only really arrived in Ireland in the 1990s. While An Garda Síochána had been the driving force behind the roll-out of CCTV here, the institution of the Community-Based CCTV Scheme in June, 2005 has injected increased fervour into the expansion of CCTV surveillance in Ireland. The availability of various levels of funding to assist in the installation of CCTV has meant communities such as Blackpool in Cork, Clonmel and Tallaght have been able to introduce CCTV systems with a view to reducing the risk of anti-social and criminal activity.

The rationale behind the use of CCTV as a crime prevention strategy is that its presence increases the chances of detection and apprehension thereby deterring would-be offenders. It has also proven useful in the context of police resource allocation and investigation. Furthermore, there is the school of thought that CCTV promotes feelings of security and safety and consequently urban renewal in areas where it is deployed.

There are however a number of concerns surrounding the use of CCTV. While it may be said to deter would-be offenders, there is an argument that the presence of CCTV merely displaces offending rather than actually preventing it. Another criticism is that CCTV is instrumental in the perpetuation of a ‘fortress mentality’, whereby communities baton down the hatches in the face of non-conformity and difference. These aside, the most recognised concerns surrounding CCTV are its impact on privacy and the potential for abuse.

The report documents all of these issues and more and it examines the emergence of CCTV as a crime prevention strategy and the effectiveness it displays in this role.

A week after the launch of the report here in Ireland it is interesting to note that in the UK the House of Lords constitution committee has now published a report entitled Surveillance: Citizens and the State. The report confirms the fact that Britain has established one of the most extensive and technologically advanced surveillance systems in the world on the basis of claims about crime, terrorism and administrative efficiency. The country has an estimated 4m cameras and a national DNA database, with more than 7% of the population already logged compared with 0.5% in the America.

The peers fear that the resultant “surveillance society” risks undermining fundamental rights such as the right to privacy. The report concludes that privacy is an “essential prerequisite to the exercise of individual freedom” and the growing use of surveillance and data collection needs to be regulated by executive and legislative restraint at all times.

In recent years, up to 78% of the crime prevention budget having been spent on CCTV in recent years yet the report notes that there is a lack of clear understanding as to how beneficial the reliance on CCTV is in actually preventing crime. It therefore recommends the UK government undertakes an independent appraisal of research into its use. It also recommends new laws to regulate the use of CCTV in the public and private sectors and the development of “codes of practice that are legally binding on all CCTV schemes, and a system of complaints and remedies”.

The report makes more than 40 recommendations to protect individual privacy, including the deletion of all profiles from the national DNA database except for those of convicted criminals.
Clearly, as we in Ireland contemplate the move towards an increased use in CCTV and other surveillance methods, we are well placed to make sure we learn from the experience of the UK and other countries where surveillance has already become a significant part of strategies for ensuring public safety or detecting crime. Maintaining the correct balance between these issues and the right to privacy is essential to ensuring a healthy democracy and a sense of trust between citizens and the state.